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

Only a constitutional scholar could so cleverly reinvent government and then have that reinvention backfire so badly on him and his followers. WSJ, "President Trump Is Right: There Is a Border Emergency," 21 Feb. 2019 However, former communication strategist for Justice Neil Gorsuch Ron Bonjean warned that such a push by Democrats could backfire and rile up the conservative base for the midterms. Adam Shaw, Fox News, "Democrats float more Kavanaugh investigations, impeachment even if he is confirmed," 22 Sep. 2018 Together, the researchers conclude that the wall busting backfired. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Open offices are as bad as they seem—they reduce face-to-face time by 70%," 13 July 2018 Several Democrats have warned that such actions could backfire by eliciting sympathy for Trump officials, rallying Republicans to the polls in midterms or leading to similar protests against liberals by Trump supporters. Rosanna Xia,, "Rep. Maxine Waters addresses death threats, canceled events in Texas and Alabama: 'We're going to keep fighting for these children'," 30 June 2018 Investigators concluded later that year that the decision to give all new officers CIT training had backfired. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Implementation of mental health training plan for officers runs counter to recommendations," 8 June 2018 But the trust that schools placed in Cipolletti and Discovery Tours backfired this week. Patrick O'donnell,, "Once-trusted Discovery Tours ducks questions about missing money after failing thousands of students," 6 May 2018 Any foundation re-granting to smaller charities will worry a lot about the potential for a grant to backfire. Kelsey Piper, Vox, "It’s surprisingly hard to give away billions of dollars," 11 Dec. 2018 Yet the germ surveillance data as well as a series of experiments the researchers conducted in mice suggest that the effort might be backfiring and that the hooch hygiene may actually be encouraging the spread of drug-resistant pathogens. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Hospital superbugs are evolving to survive hand sanitizers," 5 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

19 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

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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