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These two versions below are used interchangeably where I live now in the United States:

  1. Make sure to do something.
  2. Be sure to do something.

But I always have found the first version clumsy. I come from a strong linguistic background in the UK where there was an emphasis on grammar, and I can’t imagine my English teachers from private school using the “make sure to” version.

Is “make sure to” correct English in its purest form?

For example, would you approve of the “make sure to” version if you were a professional book publisher or a a grammar school teacher?

PS: I'm not sure what the correct tags are — compound verbs? intransitive verbs?

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There's always some difficulty reconciling "correct English in it's purest form" with idiomatic expressions. Once an expression earns its own entry in the dictionaries, it's hard to argue against that expression's "Englishness". –  J.R. Aug 3 '13 at 22:56
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"Make sure to" is indeed clumsy. Who talks like that? One normally makes sure that (something is done), or makes sure of (something). –  n.m. Aug 3 '13 at 23:04
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A second-person tensed clause would just as well, and seems to be what I'd reach for: Be sure you ... and Make sure you .... –  John Lawler Aug 3 '13 at 23:27
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@ Sridhar-Sarnobat: It's possible you got downvoted by younger people who see this as a "peeve" (I'd guess most people under 30 would think it was slightly ridiculous to be championing a usage that was in terminal decline before they were born). –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 3:53
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@John: Or a third-person tensed clause - Make sure he eats his greens! –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 4:20
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Usage has changed significantly over the past few decades...

enter image description here

...as you can see, make sure to [verb] has already overtaken the (dated, imho) be sure to [verb] and doubtless soon make sure [noun] [verb] will overtake be sure [noun] [verb] (I've no doubt it did so long ago in speech; written forms tend to lag, and they're often just quoting earlier usages).

I don't see any reason to question the "grammatical correctness" of either form. They're just idiomatic choices, and it's pretty obvious which form is going to dominate in future. I suppose a professional editor can make his own choice about "house style", but if I were a writer I'd go elsewhere if they told me I had to use be sure. And I'd certainly take issue with anyone trying to teach my children that only what strike me as "Victorian" idiomatic choices were acceptable.

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Wow, great evidence. I've never heard of Ngram viewer (and I work for Google!). You make a begrudgingly credible argument against my position. Growing older is so hard. –  Sridhar-Sarnobat Aug 4 '13 at 3:52
    
The only consolation for me (30 years old) is that "be sure to" is maintaining its usage frequency rather than declining. –  Sridhar-Sarnobat Aug 4 '13 at 3:57
    
@Sridhar-Sarnobat: You'd be unwise to take any comfort from the fact that the graph might appear to show that. As per my answer, the true decline will be greater than the line suggests, since many of the later instances will be quoting earlier text, historical novels, etc. And the written form always lags behind emerging idiomatic trends in speech. Your cause is already lost, I'm afraid. –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 4:09
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...I, on the other hand, can feel fairly good about it, because apparently Brits are slightly ahead of Americans re this trend. Even at 60, I find the make version comfortable. I've never liked the "infinitive" format anyway - I'd always tend to add the (to me, "missing") pronoun you and just use a normal tensed verb in a normal imperative. For me, "[You] Shut that door!" becomes "[You] Make sure you shut that door!" (not "Be sure to shut that door!"). –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 4:17
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