\ ˈfāl \
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 \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for fail

Synonyms: Verb

bomb, collapse, flop, flunk, fold, founder, miss, tank, wash out

Antonyms: Verb

click, come off, deliver, go, go over, pan out, succeed, work out

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Examples of fail in a Sentence


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

French striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for cursing at his coach: the players boycotted a day of training, a top official resigned in disgust, and France failed to win a game. Sean Gregory, Time, "32 Teams Entered, 2 Remain. Your Ultimate Guide to the World Cup Final," 13 July 2018 The 26-year-old joined from Torino for £23m last summer but has failed to make an impact at Stamford Bridge, with many of his 22 Premier League appearances last season coming as a substitute., "Davide Zappacosta Set for Serie A Return as Chelsea Plan Summer Overhaul Under New Boss," 13 July 2018 Charity and churches were seen as failing to cope with poverty, as mass urbanisation weakened traditional social bonds. The Economist, "The welfare state needs updating," 12 July 2018 Manafort faces charges including money laundering, bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and failing to register foreign lobbying work. Renae Reints, Fortune, "Paul Manafort Is Getting Transferred out of His 'VIP' Prison," 12 July 2018 An officer who was captured on video failing to intervene as a man harassed a woman for wearing a Puerto Rican flag shirt resigned Wednesday, the Cook County Forest Preserve District Police Department said. Samantha Schmidt,, "Officer resigns after video shows he watched as woman was harassed for wearing Puerto Rico shirt," 12 July 2018 England must not have been paying attention when Panama tried (and failed) to score on the Three Lions during a goal celebration in the group stage because England tried to do the same on Wednesday. Andrew Joseph, For The Win, "England tried to take advantage of a nonexistent rule and score during Croatia's celebration," 12 July 2018 In some cases, even washing one’s hands with tap water and failing to dry them properly can transmit the microorganism — which, says Haberman, is all the more reason to consider daily disposable lenses. Katie Heaney, The Cut, "Are My Contacts Going to Make Me Go Blind?," 11 July 2018 The lawsuits say agrochemical giant Monsanto, which makes Roundup, long knew about the cancer risk but failed to warn people. Sudhin Thanawala, The Seattle Times, "Lawsuits alleging Roundup caused cancer can move forward," 10 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The condition is debilitating, and thus Daphne has had to arrange her life incorporating many fail-safes. Natalie Serber, New York Times, "A Debut Novel Upends the Myth of Apollo and Daphne," 27 Feb. 2018 In this sport, an epic fail can bring something amazing. Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press, "Hubbell, Donohue turning epic fail into epic rise entering Winter Olympics," 15 Feb. 2018 Side note: this isn't even the most epic cake baking fail from this episode. Olivia Harrison,, "The Most Hilarious, Over-The-Top Moments From Nailed It! Season 2," 29 June 2018 By any measure the decline of General Electric these past months is an epic fail for the ages. Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, "The Failure of GE's Digital Transformation," 24 May 2018 Laura Lee Gunn describes herself as clumsy by nature and after a hilarious fail during her senior portraits, there is hard evidence supporting her claim. Daniela Sternitzky-di Napoli, Houston Chronicle, "Texas teen's senior photos hilariously spoiled after she falls off a waterfall," 26 Apr. 2018 People said that was one of the main reasons last year's jazz festival was a fail. Jeneé Osterheldt, kansascity, "Thriving Negro Leagues Museum can teach jazz museum how to play ball | The Kansas City Star," 10 Apr. 2018 But this was actually Jonny’s second fail of the night. Fox News, "Man on 'Wheel of Fortune' misses out on $7G after pronouncing 'Flamenco' as 'Flamingo'," 10 Apr. 2018 After seeing a free-kick fail to get past the wall, Thiago Alcântara was able to test Alexander Schwolow for the first time in the game, although the 25-year-old goalkeeper comfortably saved the Spaniard's effort., "Freiburg 0-4 Bayern Munich: Tolisso Wonder Strike Helps Bavarians Rediscover Winning Touch," 4 Mar. 2018

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


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


see fail entry 1

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Statistics for fail

Last Updated

14 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for fail

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

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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 \
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 \

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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Comments on fail

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an open space surrounded by woods

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