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I'd like to know how often check is used to mean ensure, which means not only "determine if everything is right," but also "take the appropriate actions to correct the situation if it is not."

What I'd like to understand is how likely is that readers understand this as the intended meaning. Is there's a high change that he will think the only an assessment is requested? Would using another expression such as "ensure" or "make sure" be better?

  • It would probably help if you told us the context in which you are considering what word to use. What is it that you want to describe checking/ensuring? – Jay Jul 26 '13 at 13:24
  • @Jay This is for naming a program routine. It actually already exists, it is named something like CheckSelection, but it isn't clear from its name what it does. The main thing is to "ensure" that the cell currently selected in a worksheet is a cell that the user is allowed to select, thus changing the selection in case. I was thinking of using something like Ensure thus instead, by chance I found out in a dictionary that "check" was listed as a synonym of ensure and so I wondered if the name was actually already appropriate. Not a critical issue thus but still one that is useful to clarify. – user2118 Jul 26 '13 at 20:32
  • From your description, I think "CheckSelection" could be misleading. My first thought would be that it would return true or false indicating whether the selection was valid. I wouldn't assume that it would correct an invalid selection. That said, if there are 100 functions throughout the system named CheckThis and CheckThat and all correct it if invalid, then the term may convey this meaning in context. Worst thing in a program is to use the same term to mean two different things in two different places. – Jay Jul 29 '13 at 13:39
  • @Jay Thank you, yes that's pretty much how it is, I work at a small company of non-native speakers and "Check" came to be the jolly term to use when you don't really know what some routine should do but you know that you need it. There are bigger problems but having good names would still help – user2118 Jul 29 '13 at 18:40
  • Perhaps 'confirm' or 'validate' might be suitable alternatives. – toandfro Feb 27 '14 at 1:40
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To check something means you are only investigating the object. Taking the appropriate actions to remedy the issue is usually its own additional phrase:

I will check the status and fix any errors that exist.

Will you check the servers and ensure they are working correctly?

However, if it is implied or stated that the person should take action to remedy the situation, a response using check instead of ensure is sufficient.

Will you look into our data inconsistency issue? Sure, I will check it out.

As Walter's answer stated, you should consider an alternative to check if you want to imply the extra work of fixing potential issues, or use a prior sentence to infer that the extra work is part of the task.

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Check can be used in many of the same situations as ensure or make sure, however it does have a slightly different connotation. Check implies that it will be a fast and simple process to determine if something is correct or not, while ensure carries the implication that you must be thorough and if something is wrong you must correct it.

So for your situation, when you want the reader to understand that something wrong must be corrected, I would highly recommend using ensure.

  • Well I saw some dictionary (not all the ones I checked) that lists the very same meaning of "ensure" as one of the possibles for check, although I only remember seeing used it with the "determination-only" meaning. Just out of curiosity, do you think that those dictionaries are wrong? I can see someone mistakingly thinking it can have this meaning because often one who tell another to check something implicitly mean to also correct anything wrong afterwards, without further directions – user2118 Jul 26 '13 at 11:24
  • You have to be careful with dictionary definitions. They are often incomplete in that they do not explain subtle shades of meaning. I've seen many cases where someone for whom English is not their first language uses a word that does not really fit in context, sometimes is even humorous, but I can see how if they read a dictionary definition, it could sound appropriate. I'm sure the same happens for people learning other languages. I'm reminded of the time an American politician gave a speech in Poland in which he said, "I have great love for the Polish people", but his ... – Jay Jul 26 '13 at 13:29
  • ... inexperienced translator used a word for "love" that meant love in the sense of sexual desire rather than the brotherly love that the politician presumably had in mind. I'm sure the translator looked in a dictionary, saw this word translated "love", and thought, Okay, there we go. – Jay Jul 26 '13 at 13:30
  • I agree with Jay, the dictionary/translator is useful for learning the rough meanings of words, but often does not convey the subtle meanings, implications, or connotations which the word has, or the contexts in which it should be used. This does not make the dictionary wrong, only incomplete. And you are also right that a person who is told to "check" something, will usually infer that they need to correct it as well. But when giving instructions it's best to be explicit and not rely on implications. – Walter Jul 26 '13 at 14:30
  • "The engine just blew up! I told you to check if the oil was low." "I did check! And I wrote down right here: it was empty." – Jay Jul 26 '13 at 20:08

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