To Err is Human to Forgive is Divine - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to stop being so hard on someone else or themselves after making a mistake? If so, you could say, "to err is human; to forgive is divine." This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression "to err is human, to forgive is divine" means that you should forgive someone, even if you don't feel like it. We all make mistakes, and it's pointless to hold a grudge against someone.

Example Usage

Cindy: "I can't believe she did that to me; I'm so mad at her right now. How can she expect me to trust her ever again?"

Suzie: "To err is human; to forgive is divine. She deserves a second chance; it's not like her intentions were malicious or anything."

Mike: "That guy just stole my sale. I'm going to have words with him after we finish the shift."

Jim: "Relax, Mike, it's not worth it; you'll get the next one. To err is human; to forgive is divine, and it's better to let it go than create a controversy."


The origin of the proverbial expression, "to err is human, to forgive is divine," comes from the original version "to err is human, to forgive divine." The English poet Alexander Pope gets the credit for coining the proverb in his poem "An Essay on Criticism, Part II," published in 1711.

"To err is humane Ah ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,

Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!

Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;

To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine."

The original wording of the saying used in Pope's writing is "humane" rather than "human." At the time of writing in the early 18th century, "Humane" was the correct spelling for "human." Some language experts believe the expression's origin is much older, tracing to Plutarch in the first century. A.D.

"For to err in opinion, though it is not the part of wise men, is at least human."

Phrases Similar to To Err is Human to Forgive is Divine

  • Forgive one another as I forgive you.
  • Forgiveness is kindness.
  • Brush it off.

Phrases Opposite to To Err is Human to Forgive is Divine

  • I'll never forgive you.
  • I hold a grudge.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • To err is human to forgive is divine.
  • To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Ways People May Say To Err is Human to Forgive is Divine Incorrectly

The most common mistake people make when using the phrase is to change the "err" to "error." While this might be a reasonable change, it's not the correct version of the expression. Using the phrase to refer to serious crimes or sad events in life might be insensitive. For instance, using the term at your friend's father's funeral would be inappropriate if he died at the hands of a criminal in a hijacking incident.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase To Err is Human to Forgive is Divine

You can use the saying "to err is human, to forgive is divine" when you're trying to impress upon someone that they shouldn't be hard on someone for making a mistake. The saying suits use in professional and social situations, and you'll usually be saying it to someone that refuses to forgive someone else for their transgressions. For instance, if your colleague can't forgive another for cutting them out of the sale, you could use the saying to diffuse their anger at the situation.

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