\ 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 California senator abruptly withdrew from the race on Tuesday after her once-promising campaign failed to coalesce around a message that would resonate with voters. Washington Post, "Harris exit points to hurdles facing minority candidates," 5 Dec. 2019 So if all else fails in the regular fry world, sweet potato fries might remain a tasty option. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Poor Potato Crops Could Lead to a North American French Fry Shortage," 4 Dec. 2019 Residents have been barred from hunting the animals, which are classified as a vulnerable species, but if the government's efforts to protect the remote island community fail, officials may kill the bears, TASS reported. Reis Thebault, Anchorage Daily News, "Russians spotted a polar bear painted in cryptic graffiti. Scientists are searching for answers.," 4 Dec. 2019 The Lebanese have finally had enough of a system that has enriched the political elite while failing to build a stable economy or provide basics like reliable running water or consistent waste management. New York Times, "To Make Sense of Lebanon’s Protests, Follow the Garbage," 3 Dec. 2019 Lawyers representing Otero-Rivera had argued he should be released because the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office failed to file charges against him before Nov. 29, 33 days after his first-degree murder arrest in Montalvo’s killing. Cristóbal Reyes,, "Nicole Montalvo’s husband can’t be held in her killing, judge rules; probation violation keeps him in jail," 3 Dec. 2019 What would happen if the seal would fail and (assuming there is a left seal) should both be replaced at the same time? Bob Weber,, "Make sure your tires are properly inflated in the winter," 3 Dec. 2019 Michigan State Police are searching for a suspect last seen running away from a burning vehicle on Detroit's west side after a Taser failed to stop him. Bisma Parvez, Detroit Free Press, "Taser fails to stop suspect who fled from Michigan State Police in Detroit," 2 Dec. 2019 Better to avoid the risk of another bust-up of the sort seen at the Brussels summit the previous July, when Mr Trump even threatened to pull America out of the organisation if the rest failed to shape up. The Economist, "NATO’s Watford summit features a troublesome trio," 1 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Apple, on the other hand, delivers its iOS updates to twice as many models and hundreds of millions of phones all at once without fail. Michael Simon, PCWorld, "The Google Pixel 4 isn't getting the November Security Update on time and that's a problem," 8 Nov. 2019 Pushing one of the buttons, without using my other hand to hold the device in place, resulted in the camera tipping upwards without fail. Seamus Bellamy, USA TODAY, "You need a dash cam, these are the best ones of 2019," 16 Oct. 2019 Apple In each of the past 12 years, Apple has, without fail, released a new iPhone. Mike Murphy, Quartz, "The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a bad name but it’s a fantastic phone," 30 Sep. 2019 Every year, without fail, things in sports catch us by surprise. The Si Staff,, "What's Been the Biggest Surprise of the College Football Season So Far?," 25 Sep. 2019 Without fail, this instruction goes unheeded and there are only one or two of us (and — big surprise, always women and never a male colleague) that haul out, gut, and clean the fridge. Amy Dickinson, The Denver Post, "Ask Amy: Woman in love, loves being alone," 23 Sep. 2019 Without fail, this instruction goes unheeded and there are only one or two of us (and -- big surprise, always women and never a male colleague) that haul out, gut, and clean the fridge. Ask Amy, oregonlive, "Ask Amy: If it’s ‘true love,’ should I want to be with him all the time?," 23 Sep. 2019 Without fail, this instruction goes unheeded and there are only one or two of us (and — big surprise, always women and never a male colleague) that haul out, gut, and clean the fridge. Amy Dickinson, The Mercury News, "Ask Amy: Is there a nice way to tell him I don’t miss him when he’s gone?," 23 Sep. 2019 Every year, without fail, Lush fans far and wide — ourselves included — look forward to the beloved bath brand's Halloween collection, which is always chock-full of fun bathtime goodies inspired by the spooky holiday. Kaleigh Fasanella, Allure, "Lush Revealed Its Entire Halloween Collection — Including a PSL-Inspired Lip Scrub," 22 Sep. 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

7 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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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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