Definition of fail in English:


Line breaks: fail
Pronunciation: /feɪl


[no object]
  • 1Be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal: he failed in his attempt to secure election [with infinitive]: they failed to be ranked in the top ten
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    • The nine disciples had just failed miserably in an attempt to heal a child.
    • The systems failed spectacularly to meet the deadline for the new term, but we'll let that pass.
    • The most critical was that the regime had failed to establish firm control over the population.
  • 1.1 [with object] Be unsuccessful in (an examination or interview): she failed her finals
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    • He was struck by how one woman utterly failed the test.
    • The day ended with me failing the exam despite me reaching there on time.
    • I fail these exams, and it is by no means an easy out.
    be unsuccessful in, not pass; be found wanting, be found deficient, not make the grade, not pass muster, not come up to scratch, be rejected
    informal flunk
  • 1.2 [with object] (Of a person or a commodity) be unable to meet the standards set by (a test of quality or eligibility): a player has failed a drugs test
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    • She did not fail for lack of sincere, honest, hard-working effort.
    • Face-scanning in airports - catching terrorists as they walk by - fails miserably in tests.
    • The rules require the title to revert to the original champion if a triumphant challenger fails of a doping test.
  • 1.3 [with object] Judge (a candidate in an examination or test) not to have passed: the criteria used to pass or fail the candidate
    More example sentences
    • Some Inspectors were stricter than others and failed children who might have passed in another district.
  • 2Neglect to do something: [with infinitive]: the firm failed to give adequate risk warnings
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    • In the recent Kendall inspection, the firm was cited for failing to have an adequate design change procedure, according to the warning letter.
    • The Government in turn are guilty of neglect for failing to do anything about it.
    • You and I have have been together for so long now you may feel that I sometimes neglect you, or fail to tell you how I really feel.
  • 2.1 [with infinitive] Behave in a way contrary to expectations by not doing something: commuter chaos has again failed to materialize
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    • Contrary to the expectations, the film failed to click at the box office.
    • Such zero-damage expectations themselves risk creating a feeling of defeatism when the expectations understandably fail to come true.
    • I defined failure earlier in terms of disappointed expectations and suggested that Saleem fails to fulfill the expectations he creates for himself.
  • 2.2 [with object] Desert or let down (someone): at the last moment her nerve failed her
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    • Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?
    • His first intimation that his nerves are failing him occurs while he is out jogging in the Catholic cemetery.
    • After a good fifteen minutes, she finally turned to go, her nerves failing her.
    let down, disappoint, break one's promise to, dash someone's hopes, fall short of someone's expectations; neglect, desert, abandon; betray, be disloyal to, be unfaithful to, break faith with, play someone false
    informal do the dirty on
    North American informal bail on
    archaic forsake


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  • 1A mark which is not high enough to pass an examination or test: [as modifier]: a fail grade
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    • It is feared that their children will be given an automatic fail mark because the number of days they study at school falls far short of the minimum set by the education authorities.
    • The pollen certificate might help them get a fail upgraded to a pass grade, or even a lower than expected pass grade increased.
    • He has one pass in biology (grade D) a fail in chemistry (grade N) and an unclassified in maths.
  • 2 informal A mistake, failure, or instance of poor performance: their customer service is a massive fail [mass noun]: his first product demo was full of fail
    More example sentences
    • Who knows, it might still be a fail.
    • That was it, game over, we limped into the last control having dropped 20 mins alone on the second half and collecting a fail.
    • The more fails allowed, the longer the test required.


too big to fail

(Of a financial organization or other business) so important to the economy of a country that a government or central bank must take measures to prevent it from ceasing to trade or going bankrupt: he caused a stir earlier this month when he said that no company was too big to fail
More example sentences
  • Ultimately, if the US authorities eventually behave in a way that convinces the public that the market is too big to fail, the bubble could well last longer; the political spadework has been laid down for years.
  • For decades, governments across the West have permitted the creation of moral hazard in the banking system by encouraging the belief that banks are too big to fail.
  • And the greater the accumulation of foreign liabilities, the more the Monetary Regime became "too big to fail."

without fail

With no exception; always: he writes every week without fail
More example sentences
  • Roast beef and chicken dinners are weekly occurrences and on every occasion without fail the meat is always perfect.
  • We got to choose a sweet for under 10 pence and she always, without fail, abandoned us at the checkout.
  • There are certain websites which always, without fail, get the wrong password out of me.


Middle English: from Old French faillir (verb), faille (noun), based on Latin fallere 'deceive'.

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