\ 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

Naitore Djigbenou, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Cabinet, said the state department of vehicle regulations erred in interpreting the statue in Burton's case. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Prayers answered: Woman can continue using 'PRAY' on license plate," 12 July 2018 He and his attorneys would need to show that Judge Budzinski erred in a way that influenced the outcome of the trial. Michael Mccann,, "What Were the Key Factors Behind CM Punk Winning His Defamation Trial?," 5 June 2018 The court found that Multnomah County Circuit Judge Pro Tem Elizabeth Fithian-Barrett erred in committing Waters in September 2015. Aimee Green,, "Death threat to Gov. Kate Brown shouldn't have spurred man's commitment, court rules," 9 May 2018 In a six-page decision authored by Justice Robin Brody, the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals erred in allowing the test results to show a driver was above the legal limit without allowing the defense to challenge the assertion. John Sowell, idahostatesman, "Idaho man claimed he wasn’t driving drunk. Judge erred by not allowing him to argue that. | Idaho Statesman," 6 Mar. 2018 The family filed suit, alleging that the center and anesthesiologist erred in giving the boy an anesthetic that carries a warning about cardiac arrest risk in young boys. USA TODAY, "How a push to cut costs and boost profits at surgery centers led to a trail of death," 2 Mar. 2018 Environmental groups and the N.A.A.C.P. Colorado State Conference are suing the state over the project, alleging that regulators erred in approving the permit. Julie Turkewitz, New York Times, "24 Oil Wells in a School’s Backyard. How Close Is Too Close?," 31 May 2018 The court’s nine justices on Thursday unanimously rejected arguments from the Italian-U.S. auto maker that a trial judge erred in allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to present Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne’s compensation as evidence in the case. Mike Spector, WSJ, "Fiat Chrysler Loses Appeal of Fatal Jeep-Fire Case in Georgia Supreme Court," 15 Mar. 2018 The key, when cooking them, is to err on the side of less water, so your grains end up pearly and distinct. Emily Horton, charlotteobserver, "Four steps to making a great grain salad, every time," 19 June 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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Phrases Related to err

err on the side of

to err is human

Statistics for err

Last Updated

16 Sep 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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Comments on err

What made you want to look up err? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


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