fail·​ure | \ ˈfāl-yər How to pronounce failure (audio) \

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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Boost tweens’ confidence by modeling creative thinking, including failure, yourself. Washington Post, "How parents can help tweens develop their creative muscles, during the pandemic and beyond," 4 May 2021 But the club’s failure to read the room and understand that Carolina and Denver might both go for cornerbacks led to a major disappointment for the club on the first night of the 2021 draft. Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas News, "Cowboys add to defense with LB Micah Parsons, but failure to land a cornerback feels like defeat," 30 Apr. 2021 The American economy is a study in inequality, with risks and rewards tending to extremes, and failure often capable of precipitating catastrophe, given that joblessness frequently severs people from their medical insurance. New York Times, "Europe’s Recession Contrasts Economic Fortunes of U.S. Expansion," 30 Apr. 2021 The border crisis is presently the biggest area in which voters already view him as a failure — for now. W. James Antle Iii, Washington Examiner, "100 days: Migrant surge and big spending steal show in Biden's opening act," 29 Apr. 2021 Biden recognizes that governance failure, poverty, and now climate change, motivate migration. Nives Dolsak And Aseem Prakash, Forbes, "Here’s Why Domestic Politics Shaped Biden’s Climate Summit Agenda," 28 Apr. 2021 More than sovereign debt crisis, another run, another pandemic, war, revolution, pestilence, crop failure, another Great Depression, civil unrest, cyberattack . . . Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, "Adventures in ESG — JPMorgan’s Own Goal and Other Stories," 24 Apr. 2021 Excessive sugar consumption will elevate your blood sugar, which can cause many chronic illnesses, including kidney failure, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Ola Faleti,, "Is black tea good for you?," 18 Apr. 2021 Then, at the IMS road course, a gearbox failure 41 laps in, slotting him 25th and second-to-last. Nathan Brown, The Indianapolis Star, "Alexander Rossi says IndyCar title contenders don't have to win Sunday, 'but it comes down to momentum'," 17 Apr. 2021

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for failure

Time Traveler

The first known use of failure was in 1643

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Statistics for failure

Last Updated

8 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Failure.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for failure



English Language Learners Definition of failure

: a lack of success in some effort
: a situation or occurrence in which something does not work as it should
: an occurrence in which someone does not do something that should be done


fail·​ure | \ ˈfāl-yər How to pronounce failure (audio) \

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 How to pronounce failure (audio) \

Medical Definition of failure

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

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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

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Comments on failure

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