\ 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

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 Cities that fail to meet the deadline could be fined up to $10,000 and lose the opportunity to apply for state grant money to help pay for collection and recycling facilities. Phil Diehl, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Nov. 2021 Teams that fail to sign one of their draft picks from the top three rounds are compensated with the next pick in the draft the following year. Alex Speier,, 11 Nov. 2021 Their reports endorse policies that will fail to deliver on their promises of higher growth and tax income. Mike Rogan, Quartz, 10 Nov. 2021 Venues that fail to adhere to the ordinance can face fines starting Nov. 29. Editors, USA TODAY, 9 Nov. 2021 Those models that fail to meet these demands tend not to sell as well as those with a more competitive TCO. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 9 Nov. 2021 That explains why businesses that adapt to fluctuating trends generally come out on top, and those that fail to accommodate the latest digital developments often fade into the background. Indre Raviv, Forbes, 9 Nov. 2021 Workers who support the union have cited chronic understaffing, insufficient training and pay increases that fail to keep up with seniority. New York Times, 8 Nov. 2021 The mandate would allow for medical or religious exemptions, and companies that fail to comply may be fined. Democrat-gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 8 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun If two attempts to elect a chancellor with a majority fail, the constitution allows for the president to appoint the candidate who wins the most votes in a third vote as chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag and hold a new national election. Geir Moulson, ajc, 27 Sep. 2021 Angel fans have seen moves similar to this fail to pan out. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2021 Tesla supporters believe Cummings may have a vested interest in seeing the EV pioneer fail, especially as Musk has argued LiDAR is prohibitively expensive and wholly unnecessary for full self-driving. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 20 Oct. 2021 Where the other two fail is in trying to do Mel B’s Scary Spice. Brian Moylan, Vulture, 15 Oct. 2021 But should the former Miami center fail, Paschall could usurp that role, or Rudy Gay could play some small-ball five as well. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 11 Oct. 2021 It’s where both Royal Ascot and the Cartier Queen’s Cup Polo championship are held, two events that Her Majesty attends almost without fail. Rebecca Suhrawardi, Robb Report, 24 Oct. 2021 Without fail, there’s always something mesmerizing about the way light reflects off a flawless new manicure. Michella Oré, Vogue, 17 Oct. 2021 For me, this need to be fail-proof kept me on only safe paths for years. Melanie Hicks, Forbes, 15 Oct. 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

21 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Fail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 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


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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