\ 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 Cevallos says that if there is any doubt about a prospective juror’s impartiality, trial courts should err on the side of excusing the juror. NBC News, "Harvey Weinstein appeals rape, criminal sexual act conviction," 5 Apr. 2021 While Fauci has said that there’s no conclusive proof that the above scenario is common, studies on the issue are ongoing and there’s every reason in the world to err on the side of caution in the interim. Yoni Heisler, BGR, "Dr. Fauci reveals the big problem you’ll face after getting a coronavirus vaccine," 9 Mar. 2021 His overall stance is for Alaskans to err on the careful side for a little while longer until more Alaskans are vaccinated and less virus is circulating. Annie Berman, Anchorage Daily News, "What can you do after getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s how Alaska’s top public health experts are adjusting.," 20 Mar. 2021 If in doubt, err on the side of caution and prime the area. Tamara Gane, Southern Living, "How to Paint a Tile Floor," 19 Mar. 2021 Lawmakers were furious, and HHS officials say their obligation is to err on the side of caution. Washington Post, "Hundreds of minors are crossing the border each day without their parents. Who are they?," 11 Mar. 2021 Perhaps the key lesson to be drawn is for all public health officials to err on the side of caution and to message accordingly. Joshua Cohen, Forbes, "Metamorphosis Of A Dutch Top Public Health Official, Jaap Van Dissel, In The Face Of The Covid-19 Pandemic," 11 Mar. 2021 To be sure, given the horrifying consequences of rabies, preventive measures must err on the side of overtreatment. Gustav Cappaert/undark, Popular Science, "Americans spend millions of dollars on rabies treatments each year. They don’t have to.," 25 Feb. 2021 Be sure to aim straight in, err on aiming up a bit, and drill a hole about 1 1/2 inches deep. Susan Dietrich Hassler, Star Tribune, "Got a maple tree? How to make homemade maple syrup from your own backyard," 3 Mar. 2021

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

11 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Err.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for err



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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