Mistake vs. Error

“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”

Morihei Ueshiba, a martial artist and the founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido

Perhaps, you associate “error” with some computer problems because when something is going wrong, you might see a message like this:

IC725763

But there is more to “error” than this. Generally speaking, an error is a mistake and a mistake… is an error!

MISTAKE

Meaning (according to the Collins Dictionary) Examples
If you make a mistake, you do something which you didn’t intend to do, or which produces a result that you don’t want Don’t make a mistake of going against your principles.

It’s a big mistake to throw such a good thing away.

Sorry, it’s my mistake.

I did it by mistake.

It’s all a terrible mistake.

It’s such an easy mistake to make!

Something or part of something which is incorrect or not right There is a mistake in the crossword puzzle.

Avoid spelling mistakes in the essay.

It’s difficult to mask this carpentry mistake.

In other words, a mistake is a misconception or an error in action, judgement etc. caused by poor knowledge, reasoning etc.

Mind that “mistake” can be a verb:

  1. You mistake a person/thing for someone/something else if you think that they are the other person/thing: I mistook you for John. I may mistake hay fever for cold.
  2. You mistake something if you fail to recognize/understand it: Don’t mistake how serious it is! They mistook my idea.

Here are some common “mistake” phrases:

  • To learn from one’s mistakes: A wise person learns from their mistakes.
  • If I’m not mistaken (used when you are making a statement you are not sure is correct): The bag was here, if I’m not mistaken.
  • Unless I’m (very much) mistaken = if I’m not mistaken: You haven’t mentioned your name, unless I’m mistaken.
  • There is no mistaking sth. (used to emphasize that you can’t possible be wrong about sth.): There was no mistaking love in your eyes. There is no mistaking my words. 
  • By mistake – accidentally: I opened your letter by mistake. 

ERROR

Unlike the noun “mistake”, which is countable, “error” is a variable noun:

  • There is a mathematical error (= there is one mathematical mistake).
  • Error is unavoidable (= inaccuracy).

Generally speaking, “error” and “mistake” are synonymous. They both mean something you have done which is considered to be incorrect or wrong. But “mistake” is a wrong choice, if you like, while”error” is first of all inaccuracy. Compare:

  • It was a mistake to give the kid that toy.
  • It’s just a typing error.

However, “error” can mean an incorrect belief and wrong judgement. It’s actually a broader term than “mistake” is. “Error” implies deviation from the truth, accuracy etc. while “mistake” is an error caused by inattention, carelessness, misunderstanding etc. Compare:

  • Receive error reports in your email.
  • My mistake was underestimating you.

OTHER SYNONYMS

  1. Blunder – a stupid or careless mistake: I think he made a tactical blunder by announcing it so far ahead of time.
  2. Slip – a small of unimportant mistake: There should be no slips. 
  3. Fault – a mistake in what someone is doing or in what they have done: It is a big fault to think that you can learn a language in a few weeks or months. 
  4. Flaw – a mistake which makes something like a theory or an argument less effective or valid: Almost all of these studies have serious flaws.
  5. Bug – a mistake in a computer program: There is a bug in the software.