You might think that make sure and ensure are interchangeable in writing. But it’s not always the case because there are differences in use and meaning.
Your choice can depend on the level of formality and certainty or the expression of a desire or intention in a sentence. Here are two examples that highlight the difference in meaning.
Make sure you buy some bread; is informal and simply means don’t forget.
However, I will ensure your delivery arrives on time, is formal, and offers a guarantee.
The differences between make sure and ensure
When you use make sure, it is more informal, indicating a desire or intention for something to happen.
We often use it in everyday speech and writing to give simple instructions or make an implied request.
As a request, you might say, make sure you lock the front door when you leave.
For an intention, I’ll make sure I finish reading the book by tomorrow.
But ensure is more formal and also implies a guarantee or certainty rather than only an intention.
We use it more in academic, business, and other forms of formal writing to make promises or to state facts.
For example, it’s the role of the government to ensure all citizens have access to health services.
In business writing, it is almost always the best word choice.
Every company must ensure that refunds are available for faulty products.
As you can see from these quick examples, make sure and ensure are not always interchangeable.
When to use make sure
My grammar checker has the annoying habit of always suggesting I replace make sure with ensure due to wordiness.
But it’s wrong on many occasions.
In most forms of informal writing (and speaking), make sure is the best choice because it covers a range of possibilities.
You can use it to give simple instructions or to communicate a request.
Another use is to express your desire or intention to make something happen.
In writing, it can also convey a sense of urgency or importance regarding a future action.
Here are some examples to highlight some of these functions.
Can you please make sure you walk the dog before you go to work? (Request)
Make sure you double-check your essay before you submit it. (Instruction)
I’ll have to make sure I have all of my vaccinations up to date before I travel. (Future action)
Make sure you check the expiry date on the packet before you eat it. (Importance)
Okay, I’ll make sure the house is spotless before your parents arrive tonight. (Urgency)
Most of the time, make sure is the right word choice in writing because it’s easy to use and understand.
When to use ensure
The word ensure is very common in formal writing, but you can occasionally use it in informal writing.
It has a stronger and more defined meaning than make sure because we use it to state facts or promises that are guaranteed to happen.
There is much more certainty about commitments and future actions as opposed to intentions and desires.
Another difference is ensure often uses a that clause, which is less common with make sure.
I spoke to customer service, and the lady told me that she would ensure my package arrived tomorrow morning before 10 a.m.
In general, ensure expresses more assurance that something will happen or that something is required.
Please ensure (that) you sign and date your application before sending.
To ensure (that) we can respond to your request, please include your reference number.
To ensure (that) you receive your order the next day, please place your order before 2:00 p.m.
For me, it’s rare that I would use ensure because I don’t write in the formal register very often.
But it’s a choice you can make depending on the tone, style, and formality of a text.
Synonyms for make sure and ensure
Yes, there are a few alternatives you can use to add more variety to your writing.
(Make sure you) Don’t forget to wash your hands.
(Make sure you) Remember to call the doctor.
We will (ensure) make certain your application is processed within 24 hours.
Our refund policy (ensures) guarantees that you will be protected.
I need (to make sure) be assured that you will repair my car before Friday.
Please (make sure) promise that you won’t tell anyone.
These are only a few suggestions, but you can be more creative in replacing the phrases.
Yes, the words make sure and ensure sometimes have similar meanings, but there are definitely differences between them.
Make sure is always more informal and expresses a desire or intention to make something happen.
But ensure is a more formal word that expresses a guarantee or more certainty.
It’s up to you to choose the best one in a specific text. However, you can rarely go wrong with make sure.
With ensure, though, it can sometimes seem too formal or rigid in informal writing.
The best way to understand that there is a difference is to think about which one you use when you speak.
You often use make sure, but you would hardly ever use ensure.
As always, good writing is about the choices you make.
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