fail

1 of 2

verb

failed; failing; fails

intransitive verb

1
a
: 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
2
a
: 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

1
a
: 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 courageDouglas MacArthur
3
: to leave undone : neglect
fail to lock the door
4
a
: 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.
failingly adverb

fail

2 of 2

noun

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Verb
Thus, people who fail to provide the necessary information during the redetermination process and are removed from Medicaid, but who remain eligible, can re-enroll and have their expenses covered. Brian Blase, Forbes, 27 Feb. 2024 Spencer said in the final judgment that county officials produced inaccurate property assessments, failed to adequately notify property owners of certain rights and failed to process appeals in a reasonable timeline. Noelle Alviz-Gransee, Kansas City Star, 27 Feb. 2024 His story is one of a hero, who rises to a challenge and succeeds unexpectedly; and also that a hero can fail tragically, be misunderstood, be subject to the low, crass, self-interested side of human nature, of tawdry rumors and politics, be attacked, to be canceled. Charles Oppenheimer, Variety, 27 Feb. 2024 While some became successes — Beauty and the Beast brought in $1.27 billion globally — others like The Little Mermaid failed to perform as well. Lucas Shaw, Fortune, 27 Feb. 2024 The successful appeal moved Everton, which has failed to register a win in their last five matches, up to 15th in the Premier League table. Sammy Mncwabe, CNN, 26 Feb. 2024 In Porter’s case, her ticket was dismissed when the sheriff’s deputy failed to attend the traffic court hearing. USA TODAY, 26 Feb. 2024 Yet, this formula fails to consider the longevity of the item. Pattie Ehsaei, Forbes, 15 Feb. 2024 Residents have long complained that pilots fail to follow the airport’s voluntary noise abatement procedures, but there’s not much the city can do about it. Phil Diehl, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Feb. 2024
Noun
What could be more disheartening than a spectacular fail in front of the whole school, with a literal spotlight on you? Owen Thomas, The Christian Science Monitor, 26 Feb. 2024 That was a fail for the 15th consecutive season; — Second goal: Get the home-field playoff advantage. Dave Hyde, Sun Sentinel, 14 Jan. 2024 But breaking with tradition, the Association of Social Worker Boards in 2022 released its pass/fail rates by demographic groups and revealed stark inequities. Grace Rubenstein, STAT, 18 Jan. 2024 Pass/fail rates are proprietary information, most of which is not shared publicly. Grace Rubenstein, STAT, 18 Jan. 2024 Summaries of all the applicants, which included pass/fail notes, were published on the AMCC website when the licenses were awarded Monday. Howard Koplowitz | Hkoplowitz@al.com, al, 13 Sep. 2023 Here’s what the report found The report found that 0.01% of leaves are passing the critical temperature threshold, meaning their ability to photosynthesize fails. Sara Chernikoff, USA TODAY, 25 Aug. 2023 There was very much a fail hard, fail fast mentality, which has never been my vibe. Claire Stern, ELLE, 15 Aug. 2023 As dreams of building a home fail, a sense of hope can curdle into a feeling of homelessness. Meghan Racklin, The New Republic, 10 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fail.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Verb and Noun

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

First Known Use

Verb

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

Noun

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near fail

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fail. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

fail

1 of 2 verb
1
a
: to lose strength : weaken
failing eyesight
b
: to stop functioning
the engine failed
2
a
: to fall short
failed in their duty
b
: to become absent or lacking
the power failed
c
: to be unsuccessful (as in passing an examination)
d
: to grade as not passing
fail a student
e
: to become bankrupt
3
: disappoint, desert
fail a friend in need
4
: to leave undone : neglect
fail to answer the telephone

fail

2 of 2 noun
: failure sense 1
usually used in the phrase without fail

Medical Definition

fail

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

Legal Definition

fail

intransitive verb
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

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