\ 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 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 How to pronounce failingly (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for fail

Synonyms: Verb

break, break down, conk (out), crash, cut out, die, give out, stall

Antonyms: Verb

start (up)

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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

Gustavo Lopetegui told a congressional committee Wednesday that the Transener company that operates the lines failed to account for and reprogram an emergency system after replacing a high-voltage tower. Washington Post, "Argentina: Faulty reprogramming caused 3-nation blackout," 3 July 2019 Police believe that Driggers failed to turn and drove off the side of the road, and was ejected from the motorcycle, knocking off his helmet at some point during the crash, according to the report. Joe Mario Pedersen,, "Motorcyclist killed traveling at high speed in Daytona Beach: report," 3 July 2019 In one wicked scene, Rose learns that while her daughter passed the school’s entry exam, Xander failed. Paul Gleason,, "These insufferable parents will do anything to get their kids into 'The Gifted School'," 3 July 2019 Jim Schermbeck, organizer for environmental group Southern Sector Rising, said public agencies have failed to mitigate the negative impacts on residents' health. Hayat Norimine, Dallas News, "Dallas judge says recycling company behind 'Shingle Mountain' in Dallas has acted in 'good faith' in cleanup," 2 July 2019 That’s because the WTO also ruled, in March, that the US failed to stop some tax breaks to Boeing that unfairly hurt Airbus. Jen Kirby, Vox, "Cheese and whiskey are targeted in US’s latest proposed tariffs on EU," 2 July 2019 Kim wanted to counter domestic criticism that his engagement with the United States had failed to yield results. Seung Min Kim, The Denver Post, "Trump becomes first sitting president to set foot into North Korea," 30 June 2019 Shipping firms complain that the Nigerian government is failing to keep its waters safe. The Economist, "The Gulf of Guinea is now the world’s worst piracy hotspot," 29 June 2019 Wednesday’s lawsuit claims that the company failed to do this. James Vincent, The Verge, "Google accused of inappropriate access to medical data in potential class-action lawsuit," 27 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

While officials are adamant notices were sent, members of associations across the city said, without fail, that was untrue., "Emotions flare as Portland, long friendly to neighborhoods, weighs gutting their powers," 2 July 2019 Almost without fail, Glaser reports to his Manhattan studio five days a week, albeit with a bit more caution these days about climbing the four-story walk-up on 32nd Street. Anne Quito, Quartz at Work, "Milton Glaser is spending his 90th birthday doing what he loves most: working," 26 June 2019 Bodge tracks deals year-round and her research shows that over the past five years, appliances have been on sale over Memorial Day weekend without fail. Andra Chantim, Good Housekeeping, "This Is the Best Time to Buy Appliances, According to Experts," 19 June 2019 Even some skeptics within the company said Farley gets the job done without fail. Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press, "A man who can build a car by hand leads Ford into future; 'He’s just never afraid'," 19 June 2019 And last November, the astronomer Jason Hessels (with Spitler and others) noticed something else strange: Each split-second burst actually contains a few sub-bursts that, without fail, shift downward from higher to lower radio frequencies. Quanta Magazine, "With a Second Repeating Radio Burst, Astronomers Close In on an Explanation," 28 Feb. 2019 In 2010, after experiencing a fail at an audition with Big Deal Records, RM was invited to audition for another label, where he was actually offered a deal. Jasmine Gomez, Seventeen, "BTS Member RM Has A Net Worth That's Out Of This World," 23 May 2019 The directions were simple enough but on the third round there was a pretty big epic fail, and Kacey called it out both IRL and on social media. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Best Stage Moments From Coachella 2019," 14 Apr. 2019 Does anyone want to watch a wide-eyed 20-something-year-old fail at the job search for more than roughly two minutes?, "Sweetbitter Review: Restaurant Dramedy Is New York Fantasy For The Modern Day," 1 May 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

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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Statistics for fail

Last Updated

6 Jul 2019

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 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with fail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for fail

Spanish Central: Translation of fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers

Comments on fail

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to form ideas or theories about something

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