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

Verb 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 But one national expert worried that the current composition could actually backfire. Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Team searching for UW System's next president has no faculty, no staff, little diversity," 15 Nov. 2019 In fact, Joshua worries some of this elephant activism could backfire, especially if Thai camp owners feel like foreigners are trying to shame them. National Geographic, "Episode 3: The Hidden Cost of the Perfect Selfie," 29 Oct. 2019 Newsom seems to misunderstand the importance that Californians attach to transporting themselves and their families and how muddled policy pronouncements can backfire. Dan Walters, Orange County Register, "Gov. Newsom fumbles on transportation," 23 Oct. 2019 Kentucky’s season was at a tipping point entering the Arkansas game, and the gamble to play Bowden at quarterback could have backfired with a fourth consecutive loss ahead of a daunting trip to No. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "How getting to know their teammates helped Kentucky football players beat Arkansas," 13 Oct. 2019 Eleanor and Michael, realizing that their attempts to shame Brent into self-improvement have backfired, try more direct manipulation. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Good Place Wonders How to Reform #MeToo’s Disgraced Men," 3 Oct. 2019 In fact, Tartaro joins a long lineage of people whose vanity plates backfired in spectacular fashion. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "A Brief History of Vanity License Plates Gone Wrong," 18 Aug. 2019 On Tuesday, about two dozen people were injured when hundreds fled New York City's Times Square after a dirt bike backfired, according to police. Paul Cobler, Dallas News, "Man causes 'chaos' in incident at Memorial City Mall, Houston police say," 11 Aug. 2019 Your financial strategies could backfire at the end of February and in April. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive, "Horoscope for Nov. 2, 2019: Libra, focus on your immediate needs; Pisces, the sky is the limit," 2 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But his clever escape backfires as The Republic turns out to be a slave ship bound for Africa. Hannah Herrera Greenspan,, "Booked it! Chicago theater casting announcements for Dec. 5," 5 Dec. 2019 When Holly's attempt to deal with the haters backfires, Holly wonders if some topics are off limits. Michelle Krupa, CNN, "Start your Monday smart: Climate deal, impeachment, Roger Stone, Jerry Sandusky, NCAA," 3 Nov. 2019 The bitter partisan process backfires on Democrats, allowing Trump to win reelection and keep the Senate under Republican control. Washington Post, "It’s time for America’s business leaders to take a stand on Trump," 4 Oct. 2019 Stopped our show tonight due to a motorcycle backfire that was mistaken for a bomb or a shooting. CBS News, "Motorcycle backfire stirs panic in NYC's Times Square as crowd mistakes sound for gunshot," 7 Aug. 2019 When Denker is forced to attempt a broth, which is awful — to the delight of Spratt — his scheming backfires. Washington Post, "Did you lose Downton Abbey in the British fog? Catch up here," 10 Sep. 2019 This attempt at extortion backfires in a way that could only happen to Greg. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "What Kind of Game Is Kendall Playing on Succession?," 2 Sep. 2019 Without Trump on the ballot, Republicans might not be inspired to turn out — unless the Democrats’ ploy backfires and Republicans vote en masse out of anger. Los Angeles Times, "Column: Requiring Trump’s tax returns under California election law is just plain petty politics," 15 Aug. 2019 The panicked pedestrians also fled into nearby Sardi’s restaurant for safety after what a witness said were two or three backfires, Deadline reported. Los Angeles Times, "Panic at Broadway’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ after sounds are mistaken for gunfire," 7 Aug. 2019

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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Time Traveler for backfire

Time Traveler

The first known use of backfire was in 1801

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Statistics for backfire

Last Updated

26 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Backfire.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 9 December 2019.

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More Definitions for backfire


How to pronounce backfire (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for backfire

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with backfire

Spanish Central: Translation of backfire

Nglish: Translation of backfire for Spanish Speakers

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