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Faced with this sign on a train

Please ensure this door is alongside the platform before alighting

Is there an implication that I should act to correct the situation if the door is not alongside the platform?

I understand that the intention is that I should check that the door is alongside the platform but is the word ensure appropriate?

If a government is mandated to ensure that all children are educated then they must act if some children are not educated. Ensure in this context implies a responsibility to make sure the situation is achieved not just to check that the condition is met.

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  • 'Those also act who only stand and wait', to paraphrase Milton. – JEL Sep 17 '15 at 8:43
  • As background information, most trains in the UK now have automatic doors, but before they were introduced the passengers usually opened the window in the door and then opened the door using the handle outside the train, rather than waiting for the somebody on the platform to open the door for them. There was no door handle inside the train, so the door couldn't be opened accidentally without opening the window first. The reason for the warning notice was to be sure the train had not stopped near the station but not actually at the platform, before opening the door and falling out! – alephzero Sep 17 '15 at 20:40
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Well, normally ensure does entail a responsibility to correct something. However, in your example, there is nothing that can be done but to wait until the door is alongside the platform.

So I think it would be more accurate to say "check that" (as you mentioned), or confirm [that], or verify [that]

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  • Thank you Brian, and for pointing out that 'that' is missing from the sentence entirely. – Scott Rickman Sep 17 '15 at 8:24
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    If there is an obligation to act in this case, it is one of the most simplest actions: to glance down at the platform at a certain time. This kind of action is so minor I think it straddles the border between a physical action, and a more abstract confirmation, such as when we verbally verify information with someone. We normally don't consider conversation to be an action, though in the strictest sense it is. – user1359 Sep 17 '15 at 13:55
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    @user1359: I think the obligation is not to act. The command is equivalent to "refrain from alighting until this door is alongside the platform". To glance is neither sufficient nor necessary. And I agree with Brian Hitchcock that ensure is not the right word. – Beta Sep 17 '15 at 14:11
  • @BrianHitchcock The first meaning in oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ensure is "Make certain that (something) will occur or be the case." That meaning is identical with "check", " confirm", or "verify". – alephzero Sep 17 '15 at 20:30
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"Ensure" has several senses of obligation, contractual and otherwise, but it also has the meaning of assure, i.e, to convince yourself of the state of something. Considering that passengers have no means of correcting the train's position at the station, any obligation they have is to refrain from stepping off the train if doing so means they will fall to the tracks.

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I think there IS a requirement to act.

Had the sign simply said Please ensure this door is alongside the platform then it would have been incumbent upon you to get out and help push the train in the event it wasn't.

But since it is qualified by ...before alighting, you can meet the requirement (should the door not be alongside the platform) by not alighting.

But it was a good question and merits an up vote.

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Ensure is seldom used to imply obligation to act in a context where your responsibility and capability to act aren't already clear.

For example, if your boss says "Ensure your TPS reports have the new cover sheet," he's not just asking you to look at your TPS report and shrug if it has the old cover sheet. He's clearly telling you to fix that scenario by replacing the old cover sheet with the new one.

On the other hand, if a mother tells her daughter, "When you cross the street, ensure no cars are approaching," she's not telling her daughter to somehow stop cars that are approaching (this would require superpowers or obnoxious arm-waving). She's simply telling her daughter to verify that the street is safe to cross, and if necessary to wait until it is safe.

So ensure simply means "do not proceed until some requirement is met." If the context makes it clear that you're responsible for and capable of getting those requirements met, then it does also imply a command to act in that regard.

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Yes, to ensure implies some sort of action:

  • to make sure that something happens or is definite:

    • ensure (that)… Please ensure (that) all lights are switched off.

(OLD)

To ensure:

  • Make certain that (something) will occur or be the case:
    • (with clause): the client must ensure that accurate records are kept.

(OED)

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  • Thanks Josh. I wonder if (should the door not be correctly positioned) the train company would accept me instructing the drive to move the train? – Scott Rickman Sep 17 '15 at 8:25
  • I do think that you are supposed to act in that case. – user66974 Sep 17 '15 at 8:26
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I have noticed in a number of places recently signs saying:-

Please ensure this door is kept closed.

In the strictest sense, this is asking me to stand next to the door all day and prevent anyone from opening it. Of course, it is (what the sign writer believes to be) a polite way of saying please close the door.

So in this case there is a requirement for me to act (by closing the door), but not necessarily to perform the act requested (prevent the door from being opened).

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    When I was a child, I was confused by signs on fire doors that said "THIS DOOR MUST BE KEPT CLOSED AT ALL TIMES". Why have a door at all? – Beta Sep 17 '15 at 14:13

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