Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Usage tips (double dose!): insure vs. ensure and tenets vs. tenants

The use of insure vs. ensure might seem fairly straightforward, but I've found multiple instances of its misuse even in that bastion of copyediting, fact checking, and solid writing, The New Yorker. So here we go again:

To insure something means to agree to provide payment to the owner of the thing if something happens to it. You insure your house, your car, and your health. Unless you're talking about something an AllState agent would sell you, you shouldn't be using insure.

To ensure something means to guarantee or make sure that it happens. You insure your health in case you get sick, but you try to ensure good health by eating right and exercising.

So:
incorrect: We hope that the investment in science research today will insure advancements in quality of life in the future.
incorrect: You're required to ensure your car in most states.

I've also seen multiple incorrect uses of tenants to mean tenets. A tenant is a resident of a building. A tenet is a fundamental principle. Thus, religions have tenets, but (one would hope) not tenants.

So:
incorrect: The tenants of Buddhism include rejection of dukkha, or desire.
incorrect: The tenets of the building sued the landlord for negligence.

3 comments:

fang2415 said...

Just found this through a Google search and thought I'd comment to mention that the New Yorker does not do this by mistake. As far as I can tell, they *always* use "insure". No idea why (hence me trying to Google it). But they're doing it on purpose, and must think they have a good reason. I wish they published their style guide...

Incidentally, here is another decent piece of writing that uses "insure" where others might use "ensure"...

Melo The Prog Goddess said...

Language develops, even changes with the passage of time. Dost thou not knowest that?

Linda R said...

Finally i found out what is difference between tenets and tenats! Thanks a lot for your post.