\ 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 The House last month passed legislation to provide $120 billion in grants to independent restaurants amid warnings that 85 percent of them could fail without assistance. Washington Post, "Raging virus triggers new shutdown orders and economy braces for fresh wave of pain," 14 Nov. 2020 Biden called Trump’s approach an embarrassment, and his lawyers said the legal challenges would fail and the Democrat will inevitably be sworn in as president on Jan. 20. Josh Wingrove,, "Biden Brushes Off Trump’s Long-Shot Bid to Undercut Election," 11 Nov. 2020 Beyond the premise, experts argue that the actual implementation of this strategy would fail for a number of reasons as well. Tara C. Smith, SELF, "The Concept of Coronavirus Herd Immunity Is Deadly and Dangerous," 9 Nov. 2020 Uber and Lyft have long argued that state regulations fail to account for the complexity of their business models and they should be treated as technology platforms, not transportation providers. Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times, "California voters approve Prop. 22, allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to remain independent contractors," 3 Nov. 2020 The results are predictions about the likelihood that the person will fail to appear in court or get arrested in the interim, which judges can use to help make a decision about whether to release or keep a person in jail. Rachel Metz, CNN, "In California, voters must choose between cash bail and algorithms," 31 Oct. 2020 Rouse and others have complained that corrections officers in the facility often fail to wear masks while working. Graham Kates, CBS News, "Hundreds of inmates test positive as COVID-19 rips through New York prison," 28 Oct. 2020 My initial instinct was to go rigid and hope that Sudimack would fail to notice us, but the Dogman gave us away. Michael Deagler, Harper's Magazine, "New Poets," 27 Oct. 2020 Brown fails and dies so that others may fail and die after him—perhaps ad infinitum. Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, "The Mischievous Irreverence of “The Good Lord Bird”," 26 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun This approach proves a boon for the cook — no fail crispiness and easier crust work. Jeanmarie Brownson,, "How to whip up a stellar pot pie from Thanksgiving leftovers," 18 Nov. 2020 Because of its soft fail design, the protection can be overridden, in some cases purposely by an attacker or simply due to a network failure. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "Mac certificate check stokes fears that Apple logs every app you run," 16 Nov. 2020 While a quarantine fail might've cost him a plum Saturday Night Live spot last month, Wallen wasn't one of the numerous country stars whose COVID-19 exposure cost them a slot during the 2020 Country Music Awards broadcast. Joe Lynch, Billboard, "Morgan Wallen Brings 'More Than My Hometown' to 2020 CMA Awards," 11 Nov. 2020 What’s good is the systems generally have just been better and all of our fail-safes work, because this notion of both parties, both candidates, being represented in the counts lead to accurate counts. Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY, "Elections expert Q&A: No evidence of fraud and fail-safes everywhere in US voting system," 8 Nov. 2020 Even if a large share fail, entrepreneurial cooks with a line of credit could take their place. New York Times, "If Restaurants Go, What Happens to Cities?," 3 Nov. 2020 One photoshop fail is bad, but three is inexcusable. Carolyn Twersky, Seventeen, "Every Time the Kardashian/Jenners Were Caught in a Photoshop Fail," 30 Oct. 2020 Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that the snapback is fail-safe – for now. Hollie Mckay, Fox News, "UN arms embargo against Iran expires: What's next?," 19 Oct. 2020 Because high-performance crossbows cannot be used without them, those cocking devices have to be pretty much fail-proof. Will Brantley, Outdoor Life, "The Bow Test: Our Picks for the Best New Bows and Crossbows of the Year," 15 Sep. 2020

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

20 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 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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