Catalytic subunits of DNA-dependent RNA polymerases of bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes share hundreds of ultra-conserved amino acids. Remarkably, the plant-specific RNA silencing enzymes, Pol IV and Pol V differ from Pols I, II and III at ~140 of these positions, yet remain capable of RNA synthesis. Whether these amino acid changes in Pols IV and V alter their catalytic properties in comparison to Pol II, from which they evolved, is unknown. Here, we show that Pols IV and V differ from one another, and Pol II, in nucleotide incorporation rate, transcriptional accuracy and the ability to discriminate between ribonucleotides and deoxyribonucleotides. Pol IV transcription is notably error-prone, which may be tolerable, or even beneficial, for biosynthesis of siRNAs targeting transposon families in trans. By contrast, Pol V exhibits high fidelity transcription, suggesting a need for Pol V transcripts to faithfully reflect the DNA sequence of target loci in order to recruit siRNA-Argonaute protein silencing complexes.