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.

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 Prosecutor Chris Killoran’s questions to the deputies Wednesday and Thursday focused on their failure to de-escalate the confrontation without having to resort to violence. Rafael Olmeda,, "Deputy says he never tried to slam teen’s head on ground during arrest," 24 Sep. 2020 And its failure was a result of both the app’s concept and its execution. Adam Epstein, Quartz, "Why Quibi failed," 23 Sep. 2020 But Americans were among the uninsured depositors filing claims in its failure, totaling $100 million. NBC News, "Secret documents reveal potential dark side of prepaid debit cards," 22 Sep. 2020 President Trump promised to hold China accountable for its failure to contain the coronavirus, setting off a chain of events that created a pandemic, in a confrontational speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner, "Trump calls on UN to hold China accountable for coronavirus pandemic," 22 Sep. 2020 Biden wants the election to be a referendum on Trump and his failure to control a pandemic that has killed 200,000 Americans or address the nation's larger health care issues. Steve Peoples, Star Tribune, "Trump, Biden fight to define campaign's most pressing issues," 22 Sep. 2020 Germany’s financial regulator is considering opening a probe into Grenke AG’s accounting practices, wading deeper into the controversy after criticism of its failure to unearth fraud at Wirecard AG. Nicholas Comfort,, "German Regulator Looks to Open Probe Into Grenke’s Accounting," 21 Sep. 2020 Historians don’t know why the book was never published, but its failure to come to fruition actually ensured the illustrations’ survival. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "You Can Now Explore 103 ‘Lost’ Hokusai Drawings Online," 21 Sep. 2020 Like many others, Woods owed his high score to his failure to find the fairway off the tee, with the unforgiving rough at Winged Foot taking its toll. Paul Gittings, CNN, "Patrick Reed leads US Open as Tiger Woods misses cut at 'brutal' Winged Foot," 19 Sep. 2020

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

Time Traveler for failure

Time Traveler

The first known use of failure was in 1643

See more words from the same year

Statistics for failure

Last Updated

28 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Failure.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for failure


How to pronounce failure (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more



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

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!