\ 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

Some lawsuits fail because victims can’t point to the kind of tangible loss that the law traditionally recognizes, such as physical harm to their body or bank account. Dov Fox, WIRED, "What Happens When Reproductive Tech Like IVF Goes Awry?," 17 July 2019 Your July 11 Facebook post failed to meet this standard. Matt Tunseth, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska Native groups criticize Sen. Reinbold for ‘inflammatory’ Facebook post," 17 July 2019 Five days later, the Bay of Pigs invasion originally planned by the Eisenhower administration but green-lit by Kennedy failed miserably in an effort to overthrow Cuban president Fidel Castro. Jamie Turner,, "11 things you might not know about Apollo 11 and the Space Race: Apollo 11 at 50," 17 July 2019 Yes, politicians do fail to achieve realistic goals. David French, National Review, "In the Democratic Civil War, Root for Pelosi and Biden," 17 July 2019 But in the very next inning, the Marlins failed to maintain their lead. Christian Simmons,, "Cooper, Anderson and Castro each get 3 RBI as Marlins blow out Padres to open home series," 17 July 2019 Reznick also failed to file several years of tax returns for his personal income and his collections business., "This top cop ripped apart a Michigan town," 17 July 2019 Words fail not only Ichiro but other Japanese-Americans, who bear the scars of the war in their own ways. Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, "The Stories We Tell, and Don’t Tell, About Asian-American Lives," 17 July 2019 For far too long, the fashion industry has failed to reflect the size diversity of real world women, catering only to a select few body types. Tess Garcia,, "Amazon Prime Day Is Full of Size-Inclusive Fashion Markdowns — Here’s What to Shop," 16 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Mandated by the Constitution, the census has been conducted without fail every 10 years since 1790. Chris Hamby,, "Hacking, glitches, disinformation: Why experts are worried about the 2020 Census," 4 July 2019 Only the willfully blind and the terminally ignorant fail to see that the cause is climate change. Hasan Zillur Rahim, The Mercury News, "Opinion: Thoreau looms large on Independence Day," 3 July 2019 On June 21, police observed a vehicle fail to use its signal when making a turn onto Ridgewood Drive. John Benson,, "Drunk man falls asleep in resident’s car: Parma Heights Police Blotter," 26 June 2019 After seeing her deal fail, May tried to work with the opposition Labour Party to agree a softer Brexit position, but those talks collapsed before getting off the ground. Luke Mcgee, CNN, "And then there were two: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in battle to lead Britain," 20 June 2019 This comes after a very disappointing 2018 World Cup campaign which saw Germany - one of the favourites to win the competition - fail to progress beyond the group stage., "Julian Brandt Reveals He Chose to Join Borussia Dortmund to Play Alongside Marco Reus," 12 June 2019 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

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

20 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

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


something desired as essential

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