\ 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 Engineers at Morton-Thiokol, the contractor that manufactured the boosters for NASA, had noticed a disturbing tendency for the O-ring seals to fail during tests if temperatures were below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "Netflix's Challenger Is a Gripping Look at NASA in Crisis," 16 Sep. 2020 Any large-scale positive attempts are likely to fail for obvious reasons. Matthew Walther, TheWeek, "Life is worth living," 15 Sep. 2020 Administrators have chastised students for behaving irresponsibly, while taking no responsibility for setting them up to fail—a pattern that will likely continue through the fall as college clusters inevitably grow. Ed Yong, The Atlantic, "The Pandemic Is an Intuition Nightmare," 9 Sep. 2020 The analysis of the signatures found at least 5,400 that appeared to be either duplicates or to contain inaccurate information — enough, if invalidated, to have caused the effort to fail. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "JCPS superintendent and school tax hike opponent face off during Louisville Forum," 9 Sep. 2020 Many of the nation’s top research universities have tried to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks only to fail. Gary Robbins, San Diego Union-Tribune, "600 UC San Diego students and faculty ask the university to drop plans to re-open campus," 7 Sep. 2020 And while this bill is likely to fail in the Republican-majority Senate, advocates still saw the vote as a step forward. Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY, "House will vote on federal marijuana legalization for the first time, bill's future in Senate uncertain," 5 Sep. 2020 Shands Lake Shore Regional Medical Center in Lake City, Florida, closed its doors on Aug. 31, becoming the latest in a long line of rural hospitals to fail under the pressures of pricing changes made by Congress and the coronavirus. David Hogberg, Washington Examiner, "Florida rural hospital closes, becoming the 15th of 2020," 3 Sep. 2020 It was destined to fail—no matter who was president. Libby Watson, The New Republic, "Covid Patients Are Receiving Eye-Popping Bills. It’s Not All Trump’s Fault.," 2 Sep. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Having a hose or a belt fail in the middle of a drive can spell disaster for an engine and leave you stranded—potentially without a fixable car. Alex Leanse, Popular Mechanics, "How to Get Your Car Ready For Your Next Road Trip," 13 June 2020 Without fail, the week after duck season ends, the ducks show up. Joe Genzel, Outdoor Life, "Why Don’t We Hunt Ducks in the Spring?," 28 Aug. 2020 And only the willfully ignorant fail to grasp that publicly expressing one's concerns about the state of his country is a very different thing from being unpatriotic. John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World': Film Review," 4 Aug. 2020 The same can be said of San Antonio basketball cold spells, which occur even less frequently and without fail are quickly forgotten. Mike Finger,, "Finger: Strangers to suffering, Spurs hope to keep it that way," 15 Aug. 2020 Every year, without fail, college computer servers get overloaded with applicants applying at the last minute and shut down. Lee Shulman Bierer,, "Countdown to college: Application mistakes to avoid," 17 Aug. 2020 My moth orchid flowers without fail in the darkest days of February, and keeps me focused on the fact that every season—no matter how harsh— will pass. Arricca Elin Sansone, House Beautiful, "Why We Need Houseplants More than Ever," 11 Aug. 2020 His efforts to humanize the deceased fail to give us much of a sense of Yusuf as a person, while burdening the first half-hour of the documentary with notable pacing issues. Inkoo Kang, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn': Film Review," 11 Aug. 2020 Every day without fail, Michelle Guitterez sends a message of love and faith to her husband David, who is battling COVID-19 at St. Luke's Hospital. Alison Medley, Houston Chronicle, "'Just want you to know I love you': Wife prays under husband's hospital window as he fights COVID-19," 7 Aug. 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

21 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 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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