Some Troublesome Words, Part 1

What’s the difference between “insure” and ensure”? And can you differentiate among “to,” “two,” and “too”?

One claims adjuster told me this insure/ensure mix-up was one of his major pet peeves: “Ensure! Please don’t tell me you can ‘insure a good outcome’ unless you intend to sell me an insurance policy. Instead, drink Ensure and get it right! And, yes, I’ve seen ‘insure’ used wrong in professionally-printed materials more than once. The late comedian George Carlin taught me this one years ago in “Brain Droppings,” and I’ve never let it go.”

Now, we get to the confusing to-two-too of writing:

To has two functions. First, as a preposition, in which case it always precedes a noun.


Secondly, to indicates an infinitive when it precedes a verb.


Too also has two uses. First, as a synonym for “also”:


Secondly, too means excessively when it precedes an adjective or adverb.


Two is a number.


The confusion between to, too, and two occurs because the three words are pronounced identically.


  1. If you’re able to replace the word with “also” or “excessively/too much,” use too.
  2. If the word is a number, use two. Otherwise, you’ll want to use to.
Just what is the difference between “affect” and “effect”? “Healthy” or “healthful”? “Between” and “among?” And do I write “among” or “amongst”?

Okay, here we go:

Affect: Influence (e.g., I will affect the way you write.)

Effect: To bring about; result. (We will effect change within our department by looking at a problem’s cause and effect.)

Healthy: Possessing good health. (Tom is healthy).

Healthful: Conducive to good health. (Carrots are healthful).

Between: Associating or uniting in a reciprocal action or relationship. (The conflict is between Canada and Mexico).

Among: In the company of or in association with. (Paul and Marie are among my best friends.) Don’t write “amongst.”

In short, use “between” when comparing two things or people; use “among” when showing the relationship of more than two people or things. (Paul, Marie and Bob are among my best friends).