\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

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

The current administration is taking a much narrower view of reexamining a country’s conditions, which Nimni argued is a significant shift in policy that the government failed to notify the public about as required. Akilah Johnson,, "In packed courtroom, lawyers spar over fate of ‘protected’ immigrants," 13 July 2018 Nudists on Facebook have had their profiles suspended after failing to properly crop or censor their photos. Taylor Lorenz, The Atlantic, "How Twitter Became The Number One Social Network For Nudists," 13 July 2018 Lamont faces a Democratic primary battle against Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, who failed to win the party endorsement but petitioned his way onto the ballot. Matthew Kauffman,, "Campaign Finance Reports Reveal A Battle Of Millionaires In Gubernatorial Race," 11 July 2018 Perriman, the franchise’s first-round draft choice in 2015 who has failed to live up to expectations, needs a strong camp to cement his spot on the roster. Edward Lee,, "Ravens 2018 position-by-position breakdown: wide receivers," 11 July 2018 About 20 ranking officers at Harford County volunteer fire stations lost those ranks after failing to submit new required certifications July 1. Gal Tziperman Lotan, The Aegis, "About 20 Harford firefighters lose rank by failing to meet deadline for certifications," 11 July 2018 Trustees, however, upheld the charges that Gem Spa failed to update its business license with employee names. Rick Kambic,, "Following prostitution arrest, Mundelein suspends spa's business license," 10 July 2018 Two bills, passed by the California Legislature, could reduce the number of voters who fail to get their ballot counted. John Myers,, "California's primary election saw higher turnout than recent years, but most voters still skipped it," 10 July 2018 The high court ruled that Marquette University should immediately reinstate former political science professor John McAdams, finding that the college failed to give him the academic freedom he is guaranteed under his contract. Ruth Ravve, Fox News, "Wisconsin Supreme Court sides with fired conservative professor," 6 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Not only did Stenhouse fail to finish the race at Daytona, but his aggressive driving and mistakes took out half the field — and earned him plenty of enemies. Brendan Marks, charlotteobserver, "NASCAR: A win by the young guns is nice. But the next winner likely will be ...," 11 July 2018 The lewd, bawdy and outrageous fail to stun us anymore as Trump has stomped out all expectations of integrity in the nation's highest office. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, "As Stormy Daniels strips, truth about America laid bare: No moral compass in White House," 18 Apr. 2018 Investigators later said the sole vehicle operator, whose job was to be a fail-safe for when the cars act erratically, was streaming a television show on her phone, contributing to the accident. Greg Bensinger, WSJ, "Uber Cuts More Test Drivers in Its Robot Car Operation," 11 July 2018 Despite the benefits, the technology is not a fail-safe. Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, "Can Metro trains return to automation? It’s a $1 million question.," 9 June 2018 In these cases and others, a provisional ballot is part of a fail-safe process. John Myers,, "5 important voting rules to know for California's primary," 4 June 2018 Soon after, the group began building a new fail-safe, called Sheltered Harbor, which went into operation last year. Stacy Cowley, New York Times, "Banks Adopt Military-Style Tactics to Fight Cybercrime," 20 May 2018 Every night without fail, Paul Blumstein straps on a mask that prevents him from repeatedly waking up, gasping for air. Washington Post, "New ways to conquer sleep apnea compete for place in bedroom," 12 July 2018 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

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

9 Nov 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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