\ 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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from fail


failingly \ ˈfā-​liŋ-​lē How to pronounce fail (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for fail

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Teams that outperform expectations one season often fail to repeat such performances. Scott Patsko, cleveland, 3 Sep. 2021 Their arguments fail to stand on either the legal merits or on principle. Jeff Hauser, The New Republic, 1 Sep. 2021 We’ve written about how COVID-19 tore through poultry plants, how women unnecessarily died in childbirth, how states fail to fairly compensate people for limbs lost in industrial accidents. Karim Doumar, ProPublica, 27 Aug. 2021 Which aspects of the board’s vision for the festival did the 2020 and 2021 editions fail to uphold? Manori Ravindran, Variety, 27 Aug. 2021 Sometimes people fail to match their beliefs to the evidence out of stupidity or ignorance. Julian Baggini, WSJ, 26 Aug. 2021 How did the Apple TV+ series about an overly optimistic American coach who was set up to fail as an England premier league soccer coach win over audiences, critics and die-hard sports fans? Cori Murray, Essence, 31 July 2021 He is being set up to fail by the team’s new owner to spite her oligarch ex-husband. John Avlon, CNN, 22 July 2021 Conversely, ineffective bosses make the mistake of setting unrealistic expectations that set you up to fail. Forbes, 7 July 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun By letting the problem fester for so long, McDonald's has set itself up for a reputation fail. Edward Segal, Forbes, 6 Sep. 2021 The city’s financial involvement in the theater came about after years of watching prior efforts to revitalize the theater fail, the city manager said. Jennifer Johnson,, 2 Sep. 2021 George’s attempts to stick up for himself in the workplace fail, hilariously showcasing his pettiness and inability to let anything go. Larry Fitzmaurice, Vulture, 1 Sep. 2021 This class of drugs has reduced amyloid aggregation; however, since 2000, there has been a virtual 100 percent fail rate in clinical trials, with some therapies actually worsening patient outcomes. Daniel R. George, Scientific American, 25 Aug. 2021 Cal State Los Angeles, for example, reports that about 11% of all of its undergraduate classes have high fail rates. Larry Gordon Edsource, Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2021 The former president had proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package while in office, so his opposition to a leaner bill seemed motivated either by personal pique or a simple desire to see his successor and the opposing party fail. New York Times, 7 Aug. 2021 For years, Santos’ mother saw other efforts to recognize the injustice of her son’s murder fail. Dianne Solis, Dallas News, 22 July 2021 Part review, part epic fail video, and all extremely silly, the bit paired Conan with an actual gamer, producer Aaron Bleyaert, who guided the host and celebrity guests through the latest video game releases. Dan Snierson,, 24 June 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About fail

Time Traveler for fail

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near fail




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for fail

Last Updated

10 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Sep. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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.


intransitive verb
\ 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

Keep scrolling for more


intransitive verb

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

More from Merriam-Webster on fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Dog Words Quiz

  • shiba puppy more or less demanding cuddles
  • Which of the following animals has a dog in its etymology?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!