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 Striving to stay upbeat and optimistic during a life-altering global pandemic can backfire. Claire Gillespie,, "What Is Toxic Positivity—and Why Are Experts Saying It's Dangerous Right Now?," 22 May 2020 In any event, the government’s tax relief for the tobacco companies may backfire in the long term, said Abdillah Ahsan, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Indonesia. Bruce Einhorn,, "Heavy Smoking Blamed for Indonesia’s 6.6% Coronavirus Death Rate," 19 May 2020 Yet the comments could backfire if prices at the pump — which move with a lag to oil — climb too high. Matt Egan, CNN, "Trump's bizarre wish list: Higher oil prices and negative interest rates," 15 May 2020 But, this could backfire on Republicans come November. Natalie Gontcharova,, "Trump’s Attack On Mail-In Voting Could Hurt Republicans More," 15 May 2020 Avoid challenging others; an aggressive tactic on your part right now could backfire., "Horoscope," 12 May 2020 If the judge doesn’t dismiss the case, Flynn’s battle could backfire. Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times, "Flynn fights for exoneration two years after pleading guilty," 30 Apr. 2020 Your efforts to be generous and caring may backfire if someone takes offense. oregonlive, "Horoscope for April 28, 2020: Happy birthday Jessica Alba; Sagittarius, sit on the sidelines," 28 Apr. 2020 Removing comprehensive insurance from your auto policy can backfire if one accident wipes out any potential savings. Emma Pattee, New York Times, "Here’s What to Trim (and What Not to Touch) From Your Budget Right Now," 28 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun China isn’t the only country to see some of its virus assistance backfire in Europe. Andrea Dudik, Fortune, "Europe turned to China for coronavirus testing help. Why some are now regretting it," 1 Apr. 2020 Harris’s careful planning and execution risked a backfire, if voters had concluded that her words were canned or too plainly calculated. Liz Goodwin,, "One viral moment can set a 2020 candidate apart — but they’re hard to come by," 6 July 2019 At a certain point, though, the reward of opposing Sanders is worth the risk of seeing an attack backfire. Jay Heflin, Washington Examiner, "Business starts to speak out against Bernie Sanders as he gains momentum," 15 Feb. 2020 His next sketch is an effort at self-lampooning, that backfires as soon as Ibra realises what the writers were trying to do, and kung-fu kicks them into, yes, oblivion., "8 Footballers Who Absolutely Have to Host Saturday Night Live," 9 Oct. 2019 When one of Flik’s inventions backfires, destroying the grasshoppers’ reserve, Hopper demands double the amount instead. Alex Kane, USA TODAY, "How to watch A Bug's Life," 12 Nov. 2019 The enchantment, however, backfires halfway through and now the siblings have to journey across the land to find the items needed to fully restore their dead father. Nick Romano,, "Pixar's new Onward trailer shows off Octavia Spencer's 'fearless' Manticore," 17 Dec. 2019 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

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

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The first known use of backfire was in 1801

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Last Updated

27 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Backfire.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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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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