Category Archives: Confusing Words

If you have difficulty remembering the meaning or spelling of particular words, look up the proper usage before finalizing or submitting important information.

text box Words that cause confusion

taut and taught

These two words sound alike, but taught and taut have different meanings. Taut is an adjective meaning tense or tight. Taught is the past (and past participle) form of the verb teach.


(adjective): “The ad promised that the face cream would make my skin smooth and taut.”
Her nerves were taut as she awaited the results.


(verb): “She taught me everything I know about photography.”
“I have been taught by renowned experts in the field.


Taut is similar to tight (“Pull the rope taut.”)

The past tense of teach is NOT “teached.”

“He teached me how to play stickball.” X

“He taught me how to play stickball.” 





text box Words that cause confusion

ensure and insure

The adjective sure means confident and certain; when a person is assured, she is confident (as in “self-assured”). Assured can also be a noun, with a similar meaning as insured. (See Black’s Law Dictionary: “Thus where a wife insures her husband’s life for her own benefit and he has no interest in the policy, she is the ‘assured’ and he the ‘insured.’ ”) As the past tense of assure, the verb assured can mean “to give confidence to,” or reassure (restore confidence or assure again).

Confusion arises because, in the U.S., insure, ensure, and assure can all mean “to make certain.”

The board favors expansion, but success is not assured.

Wise planning will ensure a successful event.

The regulations were designed to insure your safety.

Think of ensure as “making sure” something will or will not happen; when you insure something of value, you seek payment for losses or damages that are covered by the terms of your insurance policy. Statements are often made to provide assurance, but they may or may not be backed up by actions!


(verb): Are you insured against potential losses?

Our house is insured by the company that runs those clever ads.

Remember that insurance (noun) is designed for protection:

My insurance policy will be expiring soon.

This contract provides insurance against a rate increase.

When you are taking affirmative steps to guarantee an outcome, ensure is often the best choice.


(verb): Please ensure that the belt is fastened securely before continuing.

Our quality control measures ensure that your data is safe.

Use assure when information, a pledge, or a guarantee is provided for the purpose of inspiring confidence.


(verb): I assure you, we will find the culprit.

We have been assured that construction will be completed as planned.



(verb): I was reassured after I heard the prognosis.

The gesture reassured me that his intentions are honorable.


(adjective): A few reassuring words would set our minds at ease.

(noun): I don’t blame her for wanting reassurance, but I can’t give it to her.

Are you sure you know when to use insure, ensure, and assure?





text box Words that cause confusion

its or it’s?

What’s the difference between its and it’s?
A lot!

Its is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to it.” (If a pen belongs to Jay, then the pen is his. If a tail belongs to an animal, we can refer to its tail.)  As with his, hers, theirs, yours, and ours, no apostrophe is needed for its.

This is mine and that is yours.

My dad let me borrow his car.

This strategy has its drawbacks.

The bike has been returned to its rightful owner.

The species became extinct after its habitat was destroyed.

It’s is a contraction, a shortened form of it is or it has. (Contractions are commonly used in informal speech and writing.)

It’s all been said before, but I’ll say it again.

It’s true. I’m a terrible host.

It’s her fault!

The apostrophe indicates missing letters.

“G’night,” said Marge.

When reading dialogue, we understand that the word “goodnight” is intended by the speaker, who did not fully enunciate the word.

If you are tempted to add an apostrophe to its (or wondering if you need one), ask yourself whether its can be replaced with “it is” or “it has”:

It’s your call.
It is your call. 

See if it’s hurt.
See if it is hurt. 

It’s all right.
It is all right. 

It’s got nothing to do with you.
It has got nothing to do with you. 

Don’t pull its tail!
Don’t pull it is tail!  X