\ 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 Crastes said that getting his data from Grindr took several weeks and that the company initially failed to provide a complete set of data. NBC News, "Dating apps like Grindr could pose a national security risk, experts warn," 14 Jan. 2020 The final product is a truly believable video of Nixon telling the U.S. public that the moon landing mission had failed. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, "Facebook Is Banning Deepfake Videos Ahead of the 2020 Election," 8 Jan. 2020 The problem was that players already on the roster failed to live up to their prior production. Joel A. Erickson, Indianapolis Star, "What went wrong for the Colts defense this season, and where they need to improve," 7 Jan. 2020 Authors came to Milan’s support, starting the hashtag #IStandWithCourtney, and sparking a rush of other stories of how RWA had failed at inclusion and equity over the years. Maureen Lee Lenker,, "Romance Writers of America cancels annual RITA awards contest amid racism controversy," 7 Jan. 2020 Without a takeover, there is every indication that the company might have failed all by itself. Natasha Frost, Quartz, "The 1997 merger that paved the way for the Boeing 737 Max crisis," 3 Jan. 2020 The Raiders pulled off a pretty big upset a week ago but had failed to cover in their previous five games. Brian Rudd, USA TODAY Sportsbook Wire, "Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos odds, picks, and best bets," 26 Dec. 2019 Police said preliminary investigation suggests that the van driver may have failed to yield, causing the crash. Stephanie Toone, ajc, "BREAKING: College student killed, 11 others injured after Florida crash involving rowing team," 15 Jan. 2020 By maintaining significant tariffs on Chinese imports, the administration retains leverage to force Beijing to abide by its commitments — something the United States says Beijing has failed to do for decades. Kevin Freking, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump signs partial trade deal with China, easing some tensions but leaving most tariffs in place," 15 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Water every three days during the warm months, and soak them deeply without fail. Neil Sperry,, "Agave snout weevil: The nemesis of century plants everywhere," 2 Jan. 2020 This is the only sure way of making sure your cat or dog exists and will be delivered to you without fail. Houston Chronicle, "BBB on Homes," 14 Dec. 2019 Every November, without fail, an ethics policy appears on my desk and the desk of each of my coworkers. Heidi Stevens,, "Column: A note to ‘Richard Jewell’ audiences: Journalists can’t sleep with sources. Even sources who look like Jon Hamm.," 11 Dec. 2019 The helm and aft stations featured a fail-safe device known as the big red button. T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, "The Navy installed touch-screen steering systems to save money.," 20 Dec. 2019 Because all scoring plays are reviewed, a ruling of touchdown would have ultimately gotten the call right, but Boger said he wasn't inclined to overrule his crew mates to get to the fail-safe automatic review. Arnie Stapleton,, "Patriots go from very bad luck to very bad look after inappropriately filming Bengals’ sideline," 10 Dec. 2019 Because all scoring plays are reviewed, a ruling of touchdown would have ultimately gotten the call right, but Boger said he wasn't inclined to overrule his crew mates to get to the fail-safe automatic review. Arnie Stapleton,, "New England Patriots go from very back luck to very bad look," 10 Dec. 2019 But, when large balances are involved, there’s always a salesperson to entice unsophisticated bureaucrats with the lure of higher yields with a fail-safe gimmick. John Moorlach, Orange County Register, "Lessons from Orange County’s 1994 bankruptcy: John Moorlach," 8 Dec. 2019 The collection is five pieces: a blazer, slacks, résumé-friendly tote bag, work dress and crisp white collared shirt, each designed with different brand partners and intended to help women create a fail-safe working wardrobe. Raisa Bruner, Time, "'She Asked Me Right From the Start to Do the White Shirt.' Designer Misha Nonoo on Working with Meghan Markle for Her New Fashion Collection," 12 Sep. 2019

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

19 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 January 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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More from Merriam-Webster on fail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for fail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with fail

Spanish Central: Translation of fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers

Comments on fail

What made you want to look up fail? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


good-natured easy friendliness

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