back·​fire | \ ˈbak-ˌfī(-ə)r How to pronounce backfire (audio) \
backfired; backfiring; backfires

Definition of backfire

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to have the reverse of the desired or expected effect their plans backfired
2 : to make or undergo a backfire



Definition of backfire (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a loud noise caused by the improperly timed explosion of fuel mixture in the cylinder of an internal combustion engine
2 : a fire started to check an advancing fire by clearing an area

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Synonyms for backfire

Synonyms: Verb


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Examples of backfire in a Sentence


my plan to throw her a surprise party backfired when she ended up sobbing that everyone had forgotten her birthday

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

For the United States’ perception abroad, Trump’s exhibition might easily backfire. Washington Post, "Trump’s July 4 spectacle was inspired by France. To some outside the U.S., it looks more like China.," 3 July 2019 For 2020, Chevy has broadened the Silverado's powertrain mix, in yet another reminder that being an early adopter may backfire. Jeff Yip, Houston Chronicle, "Chevy adds new 460 lb.-ft. Duramax to 2020 Silverado 1500 lineup," 2 July 2019 Getting accurate information across in the face of this science denialism is something of a minefield, as there is evidence that attempts to correct misinformation may backfire, further entrenching the beliefs of science deniers instead. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Two tactics effectively limit the spread of science denialism," 27 June 2019 But one of her top advisers and a pro-Beijing lawmaker added their voices on Friday to calls for delaying the measure — evidence that Lam’s hard-line position may be backfiring. Mike Ives,, "After protests, Hong Kong’s leader faces more calls to delay bill," 14 June 2019 Finally, a doctor writing in this week's New England Journal of Medicine said New York City's decision to fine residents who don't vaccinate may have backfired. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, "As New York struggles to undo the lies of anti-vaxers, moms step in to help," 10 June 2019 Venezuela does have ties to terrorists, but the move may backfireThe notion that Venezuela’s government has connections to terrorists doesn’t come out of left field. Alex Ward, Vox, "The US may name Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. Here’s why that could backfire.," 20 Nov. 2018 Pandering such as state premier Markus Söder’s diktat that public buildings display crucifixes may be backfiring even with some religious voters who viewed it as a political stunt rather than a genuine expression of faith or Bavarian culture. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "A Bellwether in Bavaria," 10 Oct. 2018 The aggressive push by Democrats and left-wing activists for social media companies to combat Russian bots and trolls may have backfired, exposing potential foreign efforts to whip up political passions on their side. Adam Shaw, Fox News, "Is the left getting played by Russia? Facebook purge exposes potential new tactics," 6 Aug. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Nearly 3,000 firefighters have been working around the clock, lighting backfires and building a containment line, in an effort to keep the flames at bay. John Blackstone, CBS News, "Thousands of firefighters battling massive wildfires in western U.S.," 4 July 2018 Here's how Cal Fire is gaining ground in containing the 82,700-acre County Fire Advertisement Cal Fire crews are lighting backfires to contain the massive County Fire in Napa and Yolo counties near Lake Berryessa. Benjy Egel, sacbee, "County Fire swells to nearly 83,000 acres as firefighters inch closer to containment," 4 July 2018 But Smith made the decision backfire when his single made it 2-0. Clark Spencer, miamiherald, "It was 1993 all over again as teal-clad Marlins take care of Padres," 8 June 2018 So is talk of a Trump summit with Putin — unless the president bluntly confronts the Russian leader about his cyber espionage in Europe and the U.S. >> READ MORE: Will Trump’s deal-making backfire and embroil U.S. in new wars? Trudy Rubin,, "Trump pummels G-7 democratic allies but loves autocrats | Trudy Rubin," 8 June 2018 If its wager backfires, everyday low prices will be where Walmart least wants it: in the stock price. Charley Grant, WSJ, "Healthy Skepticism About Walmart and Humana," 30 Mar. 2018 Praise for White's performance in Pyeongchang caught backfire on social media at a time when #MeToo and other movements are calling for more accountability about harassment and abuse. Thr Staff, The Hollywood Reporter, "Olympic Champion Shaun White Refers to Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit as "Gossip"," 14 Feb. 2018 Praise for White's performance in Pyeongchang caught backfire on social media at a time when #MeToo and other movements are calling for more accountability about harassment and abuse. Jake Seiner, Houston Chronicle, "Shaun White apologizes for comments on sexual misconduct lawsuit," 14 Feb. 2018 Praise for White's performance in Pyeongchang caught backfire on social media at a time when #MeToo and other movements are calling for more accountability about harassment and abuse., "Shaun White refers to sexual misconduct lawsuit as 'gossip'," 14 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'backfire.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of backfire


1852, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1801, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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Dictionary Entries near backfire


back fillet






Statistics for backfire

Last Updated

9 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for backfire

The first known use of backfire was in 1801

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More Definitions for backfire



English Language Learners Definition of backfire

of an engine or vehicle : to make a loud sound when fuel is not burned properly
: to have the opposite result of what was desired or expected


back·​fire | \ ˈbak-ˌfīr How to pronounce backfire (audio) \
backfired; backfiring

Kids Definition of backfire

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to have a result opposite to what was planned The joke backfired.
2 : to make a loud engine noise caused by fuel igniting at the wrong time



Kids Definition of backfire (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a loud engine noise caused by fuel igniting at the wrong time
2 : a fire that is set to stop the spread of a forest fire or a grass fire by burning off a strip of land ahead of it

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More from Merriam-Webster on backfire

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with backfire

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for backfire

Spanish Central: Translation of backfire

Nglish: Translation of backfire for Spanish Speakers

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