\ 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

Other Words from fail


failingly \ ˈfā-​liŋ-​lē How to pronounce fail (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.
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb According to Gallup, companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time. Bryan Robinson, Forbes, 2 June 2022 But such portrayals fail to show individuals coming from a myriad of cultural backgrounds, their identities rooted in distinctly different countries and histories. Ann Binlot, CNN, 24 May 2022 On average, each day, 12 adoptions fail in the United States, a USA TODAY investigation found. Laura L. Davis, USA TODAY, 19 May 2022 Western dietary recommendations also fail to account for how diets vary by culture. Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Scientific American, 19 May 2022 One is if the banks who agreed to finance the deal fail to lend him the money. Cara Lombardo, WSJ, 18 May 2022 Yet somehow the pages fail to accumulate into something larger than the sum of their discrete selves. Vivian Gornick, The Atlantic, 16 May 2022 But others of the creator’s tricks fail him, like a tendency to lean hard on the quirkiness of bit players studded through the story, seemingly intended as a sort of comic relief that doesn’t consistently land. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 11 May 2022 And not just fail to show up, but lie to you for weeks beforehand? Blair Braverman, Outside Online, 9 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Without fail, fans and alumni from near and far — and sometimes overseas — would respond. Matthew Vantryon, The Indianapolis Star, 3 June 2022 After every season, without fail, Bauer knew what was coming in the mail. Matthew Vantryon, The Indianapolis Star, 3 June 2022 The brand, founded by Dr Yannis Alexandrides and Eva Alexandridis in 2012, also has a range of liquid masks that deliver hydrated, softened and plumped skin without fail. Angela Lei, Forbes, 3 May 2022 Without fail, this excitement translated over to American Idol’s announcement of Paula’s return. Selena Barrientos, Good Housekeeping, 2 May 2022 Another example of Daniel Strunk having an epic fail. Dalton Ross,, 24 Mar. 2022 Without fail, the warmer seasons are all about color. Dale Arden Chong, Men's Health, 21 Apr. 2022 Products are expected to operate like a digital banking system that includes privacy and fail-safes that are tested repeatedly. Laura Wallendal, Rolling Stone, 15 Apr. 2022 Every fashion week without fail, a handful of buzzy items come to overshadow the rest. Joy Montgomery, Vogue, 7 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near fail




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Statistics for fail

Last Updated

6 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for fail


\ 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


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


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