\ 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 fail Every 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 fail (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 At the same time, when employees fail to use even basic cybersecurity tools, like multi-factor authentication or VPN services, their inaction puts sensitive data at risk. Yec, Forbes, 6 Oct. 2021 When insurers fail to promptly pay medical bills, patients are left in the lurch. Jay Hancock, USA TODAY, 5 Oct. 2021 And when those tactics fail, our psychological immune system uses complacency, disinterest and disregard. Washington Post, 1 Oct. 2021 What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Matthew Brown, ajc, 29 Sep. 2021 What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Fox News, 29 Sep. 2021 What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Matthew Brown, The Christian Science Monitor, 29 Sep. 2021 What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Matthew Brown, Anchorage Daily News, 29 Sep. 2021 And even online shopping can pose accessibility challenges when retailers fail to consider the needs of disabled people. Lottie Jackson, CNN, 29 Sep. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Garrett also asked her if the fate of Mr. Biden's presidency is at stake in the coming weeks if both pieces of legislation fail. Jacob Rosen, CBS News, 30 Sep. 2021 At the same time, one of the leading causes of failure for the 83% that fail is strategic mis-fit. George Bradt, Forbes, 14 Sep. 2021 If governments opt for a narrow-minded nationalism and collective initiatives like the Paris climate agreement fail, temperatures could rise by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Washington Post, 10 Aug. 2021 Still, by delaying the Commission’s proposal, the EU maintains some leverage if negotiations over how to implement the minimum corporate tax agreement fail. Laurence Norman, WSJ, 12 July 2021 At the dawn of the season, without fail, excitement rushes through us to curate new ensembles surrounding these items. Laura Lajiness, Vogue, 27 Sep. 2021 Their fail rate through the 21st century is stuck at 100%. Daniel R. George, STAT, 26 Sep. 2021 Since 2013, Fischer, 56, has dealt with the strange phenomenon every two years — the tree’s maturation cycle — and, without fail, a red squirrel selects Fischer’s Chevrolet Avalanche as its hideaway. Washington Post, 26 Sep. 2021 Without fail, ransomware has continued to be at the forefront of cybersecurity concerns in 2021. Michael Sentonas, Forbes, 24 Sep. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near fail




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Statistics for fail

Last Updated

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for fail



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.


intransitive verb
\ 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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intransitive verb

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

More from Merriam-Webster on fail

Nglish: Translation of fail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fail for Arabic Speakers


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