fail·​ure | \ˈfāl-yər \

Definition of failure 

1a : omission of occurrence or performance specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action failure to pay the rent on time

b(1) : a state of inability to perform a normal function kidney failure — compare heart failure

(2) : an abrupt cessation of normal functioning a power failure

c : a fracturing or giving way under stress structural failure

2a : lack of success

b : a failing in business : bankruptcy He was trying to rescue the company from failure.

3a : a falling short : deficiency a crop failure

b : deterioration, decay

4 : one that has failed He felt like a failure when he wasn't accepted into law school.

Keep scrolling for more

Examples of failure in a Sentence

He became discouraged by his repeated failures in business. He was often crippled by his fear of failure. The accident was caused by engine failure. The patient was suffering from heart failure. The accident was caused by a failure to use proper procedures. She was criticized for failure to follow directions. The drought caused crop failure. He felt like a failure when he wasn't accepted into law school. The scheme was a complete failure.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Gennett started to accept some of the game’s failures. Bobby Nightengale,, "How Scooter Gennett transformed from a Cincinnati Reds waiver claim into an All-Star," 10 July 2018 The state fire marshal’s office laid much of the blame for the April 17, 2013, disaster on the fire department’s failure to follow safety standards. Mike Hendricks, kansascity, "Firefighters protect us. Who protects them?," 13 July 2018 The measure was scaled back – fines were limited to $300, the maximum allowed by city charter – because, councilors said, they were deflated by the state’s failure to act on past petitions. Milton J. Valencia,, "Walsh vetoes city lobbying rules, calling proposal ‘inadequate’," 12 July 2018 In April, students at Peking University protested the school’s failure to punish Shen Yang, a professor of Chinese who had left the school. Chris Buckley, New York Times, "Chinese Professor Accused of Sexual Harassment Is Barred From Teaching," 12 July 2018 The small Minnesota adoption agency that placed the children had a history of violations, including a failure to properly conduct home studies for pending placements. Joe Heim And Julie Tate, Houston Chronicle, "As Hart children begged for help, system failed them," 12 July 2018 That reality, in conjunction with lax regulations on the prices companies can set, incentivizes price hikes to make up for falling sales and the failure to create new blockbuster treatments. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune, "3 Key Lessons From Trump's Drug Price Feud With Pfizer," 11 July 2018 The company cited equipment failure as the cause of the spill. David North, Chicago Reader, "Sickened surfers say the best waves in Lake Michigan are in the polluted waters off northwest Indiana," 10 July 2018 While recent advances in cancer therapies have vastly increased rates of survival, these aggressive treatments often come with severe complications including ovarian failure. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian, "How Artificial Ovaries Could Expand Fertility Options For Chemo Patients," 5 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'failure.' 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 failure

1643, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for failure

alteration of earlier failer, from Anglo-French, from Old French faillir to fail

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about failure

Statistics for failure

Last Updated

19 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for failure

The first known use of failure was in 1643

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for failure


fail·​ure | \ˈfāl-yər \

Kids Definition of failure

1 : a lack of success The experiment resulted in failure.

2 : the act of neglecting or forgetting to do or perform I was disappointed by his failure to keep a promise.

3 : an instance of not working properly power failure a failure of memory

4 : a loss of the ability to work normally heart failure

5 : someone or something that has not succeeded The new show was a failure.

6 : an instance of falling short crop failure


fail·​ure | \ˈfā(ə)l-yər \

Medical Definition of failure 

: a state of inability to perform a vital function acute renal failure respiratory failure — see heart failure



Legal Definition of failure 

1 : omission of occurrence or performance specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action a failure to mitigate damages failure to prosecute

2 : a lack of success or adequacy failure of a suit

3 : a failing in business

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on failure

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for failure

Spanish Central: Translation of failure

Nglish: Translation of failure for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of failure for Arabic Speakers

Comments on failure

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


playful or foolish behavior

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Autumn Words of the Day 2018

  • a-top-down-image-of-road-through-an-autumn-forest
  • Which is a synonym of fugacious?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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