To err is Human

Meanings of the Phrase, “To err is Human”

The phrase “to err is human” means that human beings make mistakes and emphasizes the quality of forgiveness and kindness. The phrase is often completed as; “to err is human and to forgive is divine,” which means it is natural for human beings to make mistakes as they are not perfect. However, forgiving them is a divine quality.

Origin of “To err is Human”

The phrase “to err is human” is stated to have originated from Alexander Pope’s poem, “An Essay on Criticism, Part II”, published in 1711, where it is stated as; “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” However, according to Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, the phrase was first used in 1678 when Thomas Jones wrote, “To err, is human; to recover, is Angelical; to persevere is Diabolical.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

An Essay on Criticism: Part 2 by Alexander Pope

And while self-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools:
But still the worst with most regret commend,
For each ill author is as bad a friend.
To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
Are mortals urg’d through sacred lust of praise!
Ah ne’er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
Nor in the critic let the man be lost!
Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human; to forgive, divine.

The poem details the human’s flaws. Starting from the main pitfall; pride, Pope defines how little learning makes writers susceptible to pride and makes them believe that they are superior to others. He adds even writers sometimes equally praise and harshly criticize their fellow writers, showing that their intellectual approach is far better than the others. Pope argues that every human can make mistakes but we should forgive those who commit mistakes, just as God shows his divine mercy and forgives the sinners. Therefore, the phrase has been used to complete this epigrammatic saying.

Example #2

To err is Human by Millard Lowe

To Err Is Human
Would if I could, earn a spot
in the farthest  part
of your bleeding heart
to bridge the gaping chasm
that for so long separated
and kept us apart.

With a love that is pure and divine,
please forgive the painful err that was mine.

The poem begins with a declaration that error is the basis of human nature. Being regretful, the speaker says that he cannot dive deep into the past to correct his mistakes. He further reflects on the fleeting nature of time that never allows us to erase the errors we have done in the past. However, toward the end, the speaker urges to forgive the painful errors he had done in the past.

Example #3

Who We Are Right Now by Ron Sexsmith

It’s who we are right now
At times our words get in the way
With things we never meant to say
But well you know it’s said
“To err is human, forgive, divine”
Don’t waste your time.

This stanza explains that sometimes we make mistakes unintentionally. Our words get in the wrong way. We hurt others with our biting words but as we know that it is natural for humans to make errors and to ignore these errors is a divine attribute. The phrase has been used in its literal meanings.

Example #4

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

 “To err is human, to forgive is divine… but I’m only a cardinal and cardinals are human, so rather than forgiving you I’m going to err towards beating you with this stick.”

Mark Lawrence states that undoubtedly humans sometimes make errors and to forgive those mistakes is a divine act. But the speaker does not stick to this old saying; rather, he says that he is a human, who is prone to commit errors. Therefore, instead of forgiving the errors, he is going to beat the guilty person with a stick. The meanings of the phrase are literal or denotative.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “I know you are angry with your sister because she lied, but you should ignore her fault as to err is human.”

Example #2: “The manager knew that Mr. John made a grave mistake in the project but he did not get mad at him as he believes that to err is human and to forgive is divine.”

Example #3: “The motivational speaker in his speech refers to a quote that to err is human and to forgive is divine, but that does not mean one should make errors repeatedly.”

Example #4: “Allen entered my room secretly and broke my favorite watch. Soon, he realized his mistake and apologized. Unwillingly, I forgave him as I believe to err is human and to forgive is divine.”

Example #5: “When it comes to considering the scope of environmental crisis, to err may be human, but to repeat the insanity is a criminal offense, and to make it profitable is obscene.”