\ 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 safety report pointed out other mistakes the Marine Corps failed to learn from. Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, "Faulty Equipment, Lapsed Training, Repeated Warnings: How a Preventable Disaster Killed Six Marines," 2 Jan. 2020 Then there are candidates who enter with high expectations and big donor bases but utterly fail to find their footing on a national stage. Gilbert Garcia,, "Garcia: As a presidential contender, Julián Castro left it all on the field," 2 Jan. 2020 The gist is: Because efforts to control climate change failed and now 99.99 percent of the world is frozen, the remaining survivors are stuck together on a train that never stops moving in one, long track around the globe. Katherine J Igoe, Marie Claire, "The Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2020," 2 Jan. 2020 Last year, a bill asking to hold back third graders who don't read at grade level was quickly gutted before failing. Olivia Krauth, The Courier-Journal, "Here are 8 Kentucky education trends to watch in the 2020 legislative budget session," 2 Jan. 2020 Some of those groups and their supporters tried Tuesday to force their way into the U.S. Embassy compound but failed to break in.... Isabel Coles, WSJ, "Militia Supporters Retreat From U.S. Embassy Site in Iraq," 1 Jan. 2020 After two failed attempts to sell the property in Nov. 2019, the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office asked that it be sold to the state of Ohio., "Middletown fire crews continue to battle ‘catastrophic’ warehouse fire," 1 Jan. 2020 Their lack of a singular objective, some argued, would deprive them of meaning and fail to encourage sustained political action from demonstrators. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, "The Rise of the Permanent Protest," 1 Jan. 2020 Quarterback Shea Patterson struggled with his accuracy on deep balls, failing to complete any of the numerous downfield shots Michigan tried throughout the game. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football grades vs. Alabama: Wolverines go sour in Citrus Bowl after nice start," 1 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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 However, viruses sometimes produce colorful discharge as well, so this isn't considered a fail-safe test. Tammy Worth,, "Is It a Sinus Infection or a Cold? Here's How to Tell the Difference," 10 Sep. 2019 With controversial receiver Antonio Brown absent from camp for nearly all of the episode, the Raiders’ gregarious coach was the fail-safe focal point Tuesday night. Jon Becker, The Mercury News, "How Jon Gruden saved second ‘Hard Knocks’ episode," 14 Aug. 2019 But lying willfully, adamantly, without distress or regret, and with absolute disregard of consequences can be a bulwark if not a fail-safe defense. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Is There a Right Way to Cover the Trump White House?," 6 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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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

5 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 17 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

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a plan in which a last survivor takes all

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