\ ˈer, ˈər \
erred; erring; errs

Definition of err 

intransitive verb

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

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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

Within seven hours, police released a statement that the officer erred by entering Jean’s apartment. David Warren, The Seattle Times, "Dallas police respond to shooting with proactive approach," 12 Sep. 2018 Jolie tends to err on the side of sophistication even on her casual outings, and her latest look is the perfect example. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Angelina Jolie Makes Going Strapless Look Easy and Elegant," 27 Aug. 2018 Lastly, the tribe argues that the district court erred by entering judgment against it as an intervenor. News Service Of Florida,, "Federal court rules that Miccosukee tribal member must pay income taxes," 6 June 2018 Mitigation measures are strict and err on the side of precaution; ships have to turn off the blasts if whales are seen nearby. Author: Rosanna Xia, Anchorage Daily News, "New rules would make it easier to find offshore oil – and noisier for whales," 12 Apr. 2018 Mitigation measures are strict and err on the side of precaution; ships have to turn off the blasts if whales are seen nearby. Rosanna Xia,, "New rules would make it easier to find oil — and endanger whales and dolphins," 2 Apr. 2018 Since very little study has been done on the abrasive effects of charcoal on teeth, Lituchy advises erring on the side of caution and brushing the paste on very gently to avoid wearing down the enamel which can ultimately make teeth look darker. Alexandra Tunell, Harper's BAZAAR, "Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe to Use?," 9 Aug. 2017 The rate of this only increases when Neil Armst... err, Knockout... lands on the planet, too. Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica, "Laika: Forget historic tragedy, this first space dog saves alien planets," 14 Oct. 2018 Some of the most beloved rom-coms err on the side of cheesy, though usually not literally mozzarella. Michelle Ruiz, Vogue, "Rom-Coms Are Back—But Will Fans Fall in Love Again?," 19 July 2018

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 1

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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Statistics for err

Last Updated

23 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for err

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

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More Definitions for err



English Language Learners Definition of err

: to make a mistake


\ ˈer, ˈər\
erred; erring

Kids Definition of err

: to make a mistake
\ ˈer, ˈər \

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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with err

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for err

Spanish Central: Translation of err

Nglish: Translation of err for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of err for Arabic Speakers

Comments on err

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marked by shyness and lack of polish

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