\ ˈfāl How to pronounce fail (audio) \
failed; failing; fails

Definition of fail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to lose strength : weaken her health was failing
b : to fade or die away until our family line fails
c : to stop functioning normally the patient's heart failed
2a : to fall short failed in his duty
b : to be or become absent or inadequate the water supply failed
c : to be unsuccessful the marriage failed specifically : to be unsuccessful in achieving a passing grade took the exam and failed
d : to become bankrupt or insolvent banks were failing

transitive verb

1a : to disappoint the expectations or trust of her friends failed her
b : to miss performing an expected service or function for his wit failed him
2 : to be deficient in : lack never failed an invincible courage— Douglas MacArthur
3 : to leave undone : neglect fail to lock the door
4a : to be unsuccessful in passing failed chemistry
b : to grade (someone, such as a student) as not passing The teacher failed only his two worst students.



Definition of fail (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : failure usually used in the phrase without fail Every day, without fail, he has toast and coffee for breakfast.
2 : a failure (as by a security dealer) to deliver or receive securities within a prescribed period after purchase or sale

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Other Words from fail


failingly \ ˈfā-​liŋ-​lē How to pronounce fail (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for fail

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of fail in a Sentence

Verb He failed in his first attempt but succeeded in his second attempt. His first company failed, but his second company succeeded. He felt that he had failed her when she needed him most. The government has failed the voters.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Municipal DAs would be responsible for overseeing the bill, and entrepreneurs who fail to comply can face fines or jail time. Laken Brooks, Forbes, 30 May 2021 Meanwhile, another proposal approved by the Senate would establish accelerated learning committees for students who fail their reading and math exams in third, fifth and eighth grade. Talia Richman, Dallas News, 28 May 2021 Participants who fail to meet the goals are kicked out or moved to other roles in the bank. Rachel Louise Ensign, WSJ, 24 May 2021 Those who fail to learn from history are doomed — period. Washington Post, 11 May 2021 The Cheesecake Factory When all plans fail, the Cheesecake Factory will pick you back up. Selena Barrientos, Good Housekeeping, 20 May 2021 And in January, the Human Rights Campaign found that half of US states fail to offer basic protections for LGBTQ people, such as nondiscrimination policies in employment, housing and public accommodations. Leah Asmelash, CNN, 18 May 2021 Nationwide, as research has showed that the tests fail to identify all students who do well in college, colleges and universities have increasingly dropped them. Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 2021 And as 2008 demonstrated, when the GSEs fail, America’s housing problems get even worse. Mark A. Calabria, WSJ, 13 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The first hour of every day can make waves over time if spent well without fail. Jodie Cook, Forbes, 24 May 2021 Roasting at low temperature produces moist, tender fish without fail. Mona Talbott, WSJ, 20 May 2021 Recipes are approachable for a complete novice, but not dumbed down, and most importantly, were delicious without fail. Dana Mcmahan, The Courier-Journal, 18 May 2021 Every season, without fail, there’s a breakout print that takes over our wardrobes. Christian Allaire, Vogue, 13 May 2021 Focusing on the key metrics of lead time, deployment frequency, change fail and time to restore, as advocated by the Accelerate State of DevOps 2019 report, is a good way to be nimble. Brian Rue, Forbes, 21 May 2021 During Thursday's episode of Conan, Andy Cohen, 52, opened up about a recent flirting fail involving his 2-year-old son Benjamin Allen's diaper while the father-son duo were going out to dinner. Georgia Slater,, 14 May 2021 Employers added 266,000 jobs last month, an epic fail for economists, who expected something like 1 million workers to join the payrolls., 7 May 2021 That’s where so many stories about grief fail, and where this one brilliantly succeeds: conveying the fact that even in our loneliest, most tragic moments, none of us are alone. Maya Phillips, New York Times, 7 May 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fail.' 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 fail


13th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for fail

Verb and Noun

Middle English failen, from Anglo-French faillir, from Vulgar Latin *fallire, alteration of Latin fallere to deceive, disappoint

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Time Traveler for fail

Time Traveler

The first known use of fail was in the 13th century

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Statistics for fail

Last Updated

6 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for fail



English Language Learners Definition of fail

: to not succeed : to end without success
: to not succeed as a business : to become bankrupt
: to not do (something that you should do or are expected to do)


\ ˈfāl How to pronounce fail (audio) \
failed; failing

Kids Definition of fail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to be unsuccessful He failed the test.
2 : to grade as not passing My teacher failed me.
3 : to stop functioning The engine failed.
4 : to be or become absent or not enough The water supply failed.
5 : to become bankrupt The business failed.
6 : neglect entry 1 sense 2 Don't fail to ask if you need my help.
7 : disappoint, desert I need your help. Please don't fail me.
8 : to lose strength : weaken She's failing in health.
9 : to fall short One drink failed to satisfy my thirst.
10 : to die away The family line failed.



Kids Definition of fail (Entry 2 of 2)

: failure sense 2 We met daily without fail.
\ ˈfā(ə)l How to pronounce fail (audio) \

Medical Definition of fail

1 : to weaken or lose strength her health was failing
2 : to stop functioning normally the patient's heart failed

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Legal Definition of fail

1 : to be or become inadequate or unsuccessful especially in fulfilling certain formal requirements even if one or more terms are left open, a contract for sale does not fail for indefinitenessUniform Commercial Code
2 : to become bankrupt or insolvent

transitive verb

: to leave undone or neglect to do fail to appear in court fail to read a contract

More from Merriam-Webster on fail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers


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