Eukaryotes express at least three nuclear DNA-dependent RNA polymerases (Pols) responsible for synthesizing all RNA required by the cell. Despite sharing structural homology, they have functionally diverged to suit their distinct cellular roles. Although the Pols have been studied extensively, direct comparison of their enzymatic properties is difficult because studies are often conducted under disparate experimental conditions and techniques. Here, we directly compare and reveal functional differences between Saccharomyces cerevisiae Pols I and II using a series of quantitative in vitro transcription assays. We find that Pol I single-nucleotide and multinucleotide addition rate constants are faster than those of Pol II. Pol I elongation complexes are less stable than Pol II elongation complexes, and Pol I is more error prone than Pol II. Collectively, these data show that the enzymatic properties of the Pols have diverged over the course of evolution, optimizing these enzymes for their unique cellular responsibilities.