\ 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 failEvery 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 failingly (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 There’s a triage for those who fail the check who are sent home to quarantine or to a doctor for treatment. David Taylor, Houston Chronicle, "Lone Star College System fares well in pandemic," 26 June 2020 House Bill 4210 does not forgive debt owed from fines and does still allow courts to suspend the license of drivers who fail to appear in court. oregonlive, "Oregon House votes to repeal law allowing driver license suspension for inability to pay fines," 26 June 2020 The first big change Portman's bill would put into law is punishments, including hefty fines, jail time, and grant prohibitions for those who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support when applying for federal grants. Jerry Dunleavy, Washington Examiner, "'Just scratching the surface': Rob Portman bill aims to expose and prevent Chinese theft of US research," 18 June 2020 Indeed, earlier this year, the Danish Medicines Agency threatened to pursue sanctions — including fines and prison sentences —against drug companies and universities that fail to publish their study results in the EduraCT database, as required. Ed Silverman, STAT, "Some Covid-19 trial sponsors never posted other study results in an EU database. Will they hide data again?," 17 June 2020 And mind you, in those days, 95 percent of the students used to fail at the high school-leaving exams, after spending like 10 years in those schools. National Geographic, "Episode 1: The Towers of Ladakh," 16 June 2020 Each company will determine its own response to passengers who fail to obey the rules, the trade group said -- and not all appear to be adopting United’s get-tough approach. Fortune, "United vows to ban passengers who refuse to wear face masks," 16 June 2020 Employees who fail their health screening will not be permitted entry until they are cleared to work by a professional. Miriam Marini, Detroit Free Press, "The Henry Ford is reopening in July with new precautions. Here's what you need to know," 16 June 2020 President Trump is about to fail his big coronavirus test — the test of leadership — for a second time. Joel Mathis, TheWeek, "Trump the superspreader?," 15 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Owners can have the problem fixed through a software update performed at a dealer; if a vehicle had an inverter fail as a result of this issue, Toyota will also replace that inverter. Colin Beresford, Car and Driver, "Toyota Recalls 267,000 Prius, Prius V Cars for Risk of Stalling," 24 June 2020 Without fail, Black residents were systematically targeted and fined. Seft Hunter, Fortune, "When cities go bankrupt, it’s Black lives at risk," 23 June 2020 Most ETFs take at least three years to hit that mark—and many fail before getting there. Michael Wursthorn, WSJ, "Retail Trading Surge Drives Newbie Investors to Bet Big on Gaming," 22 June 2020 Should efforts at finding water fail, make your own by stuffing a plastic bag three-quarters full with leafy vegetation and inflating it. Keith Mccafferty, Field & Stream, "The Ultimate Survival Guide to Finding and Purifying Water," 19 June 2020 Why does the fear and even reality of being filmed fail to deter police brutality? Eamon Barrett, Fortune, "Protests and property: Can architects rebuild our broken cities?," 9 June 2020 Reduced travel would be a major plus for both teams, who lead the league in mileage every year without fail. Susan Slusser,, "A’s Plus: MLB’s coronavirus proposals might feature a few positive changes," 20 May 2020 Flood is one of a group of 20 loyal core viewers who watch Pugh and Dascoulias’ on Facebook every evening without fail. Marcy De Luna, Houston Chronicle, "Houston couple bang pots, pans to say thank you to front-line workers," 15 May 2020 Without fail, the NFL draft annually produces a few crushing waits. Michael Middlehurst-schwartz, USA TODAY, "NFL draft 2020: Five big-name players could fall out of first round," 22 Apr. 2020

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

29 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for fail


How to pronounce fail (audio)

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on fail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for fail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with fail

Spanish Central: Translation of fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers

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