\ ˈer How to pronounce err (audio) , ˈər How to pronounce err (audio) \
erred; erring; errs

Definition of err

intransitive verb

1a : to make a mistake erred in his calculations erred on the side of caution
b : to violate an accepted standard of conduct
2 archaic : stray

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Is it human to err?

Many people are familiar with the word err from encountering it in the epigram “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” This phrase is found in Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, from 1711. Earlier expressions of the same sentiment exist, as in Thomas Jones’ 1678 book, Of the Heart, and its Right Soveraign, which contains the line “to err, is human, to recover, is Angelical; to persevere is Diabolical.”

Err is also often found in the phrase err on the side of caution, to suggest that being overly cautious is better than not being cautious enough.

Err stems from the Latin word errare, meaning “to stray, wander,” and it retained that meaning when it first entered English. We find the same Latin ancestor at the root of the words error, erratic, and erroneous.

Examples of err in a Sentence

I may have erred in my calculations. The court erred in refusing to allow bail.
Recent Examples on the Web The other unknowns make public health experts want to err on the side of caution even more. Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY, "College football and COVID-19: A big, disjointed experiment exposes scientific, political gaps," 8 Oct. 2020 Now Instagram, in this case, has chosen to err on the side of caution. Arielle Pardes, Wired, "Covering Comments Is Instagram’s Newest Anti-Bullying Tool," 6 Oct. 2020 The Fed chair, who has increasingly called for more government help, said policymakers should err on the side of injecting too much money into the economy rather than too little given how much work remains. Jeanna Smialek, New York Times, "Trump Abruptly Ends Stimulus Talks After Fed Chair Urges Economic Support," 6 Oct. 2020 Executive Board Member Fabio Panetta said in a Sept. 22 speech that policy makers should err on the side of doing more to keep the rebound on track. Charles Penty,, "ECB Should Maintain Significant Monetary Stimulus, De Cos Says," 27 Sep. 2020 Conley wrote in his latest decision that clerks should err on the side of counting ballots unless there is evidence a ballot was mailed after Election Day. Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "What to know about the court ruling extending election deadlines in Wisconsin," 22 Sep. 2020 Johnson is far from the first Dallas mayor to err on the side of non-engagement in partisan races, and particularly those contests that extend beyond the Lone Star State. Tom Benning, Dallas News, "Why Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a former Democratic state lawmaker, isn’t weighing in on White House race," 16 Sep. 2020 Graff said that seemingly innocuous suggestions may get swept up as a result of the policy change, but that the company wants to err on the side of caution. Kaya Yurieff, CNN, "Google is removing search suggestions about candidates and voting," 10 Sep. 2020 The temptation, at least for me, is to err on the side of specificity. Esther Mobley,, "Wine’s diversity issue starts with the way we talk about the taste of wine," 8 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'err.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of err

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for err

Middle English, from Anglo-French errer, from Latin errare to wander, err; akin to Old English ierre wandering, perverse, Goth airzeis deceived

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Learn More about err

Time Traveler for err

Time Traveler

The first known use of err was in the 14th century

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Statistics for err

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Err.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for err


How to pronounce err (audio) How to pronounce err (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of err

formal : to make a mistake


\ ˈer How to pronounce err (audio) , ˈər \
erred; erring

Kids Definition of err

: to make a mistake
\ ˈer, ˈər How to pronounce err (audio) \

Legal Definition of err

: to make an error the court erred in denying the motion

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More from Merriam-Webster on err

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for err

Nglish: Translation of err for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of err for Arabic Speakers

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