Definition of fail in English:



  • 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’
    • ‘The nine disciples had just failed miserably in an attempt to heal a child.’
    • ‘The low rates of bank borrowing have also failed to inspire firms to invest.’
    • ‘The most critical was that the regime had failed to establish firm control over the population.’
    • ‘The efforts failed due to unionist intransigence and nationalist boycott.’
    • ‘Today comes the news that the party failed in its quest for a final seat.’
    • ‘Research has not adequately explained why women-owned firms fail to grow as rapidly as those owned by men.’
    • ‘The firms have previously failed to secure planning for supermarkets at other sites in the town.’
    • ‘The systems failed spectacularly to meet the deadline for the new term, but we'll let that pass.’
    • ‘Angry traders have failed in their latest bid to shut down the notorious Welling bus lane.’
    • ‘Sofia failed in bids to host the Winter Olympics in bids for both 1992 and 1994.’
    • ‘His argument held water with the Senate, where an override attempt failed by one vote.’
    • ‘If the government fails to be firm and resolute, the loss of confidence could bring the economy to a halt while social unrest and regional conflicts could increase.’
    • ‘Judging by press accounts, many applicants who failed to qualify complained openly that politics had played a role.’
    • ‘They would hope that when the market is liberalised, that they would not see our established firms fail to survive in the competitive environment.’
    1. 1.1[with object]Be unsuccessful in (an examination or interview)
      ‘she failed her finals’
      • ‘However, the momentary setback of failing that exam delays Dan just enough to miss the plane.’
      • ‘If he is failing because of a lack of ability they can help him to accept his limitations and focus on his strengths.’
      • ‘I fail these exams, and it is by no means an easy out.’
      • ‘Youths in trouble with the law and students in danger of failing school also are eligible for the organization's programs.’
      • ‘The day ended with me failing the exam despite me reaching there on time.’
      • ‘He was struck by how one woman utterly failed the test.’
      be unsuccessful in, not pass
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    2. 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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Their relationship is tested, fails, and rebuilds several times over thirteen episodes.’
      • ‘And that is where The Science of Romance ultimately fails the test as an evolutionary explanation.’
      • ‘He has failed on both occasions, and he has deliberately defied your ruling.’
      • ‘However, the experiment failed in a major way, and the camera wanders all over the place.’
      • ‘The photo passes tests of symmetry that the painted chandelier fails, Stork says.’
      • ‘Steven Watkinson makes some good points about the difficulty of making good policy, but the government's boat people policy fails all the tests, both moral and practical.’
      • ‘She did not fail for lack of sincere, honest, hard-working effort.’
    3. 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’
      • ‘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’
    • ‘So far, the government has failed dismally to respond to this epidemic.’
    • ‘The group claims the airlines neglected their duty of care by failing to take adequate steps to prevent passengers developing economy class syndrome.’
    • ‘However, he warned that any firm which failed to comply with the new rules and standards would face penalties.’
    • ‘In the recent Kendall inspection, the firm was cited for failing to have an adequate design change procedure, according to the warning letter.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The player in question held up his hand in apology but Bradley lost his temper and accused them of breaking the rules by failing to shout a warning.’
    • ‘Following distribution, telephone calls were made to those firms failing to respond within two weeks.’
    • ‘In February, Data Protection commissioner Joe Meade announced that he had successfully prosecuted two legal firms for failing to register as data controllers.’
    • ‘Disclosures of payments to beholden director's firms also fail to specify the amounts involved.’
    • ‘The Government in turn are guilty of neglect for failing to do anything about it.’
    • ‘Every time powerful and influential firms fail to dictate a trend or convey a message, the result is millions of dollars of losses for the industry.’
    • ‘Many Bradford business leaders are failing to embrace the chance to learn about the latest advances in management, it was claimed today.’
    • ‘They promised much in this campaign but in the end failed dismally to deliver.’
    • ‘As we all work longer hours, cope with pressurised jobs and fail to take proper breaks, stress in many cases seems to take over.’
    • ‘A Marine Department probe failed to reach a firm conclusion on the reasons for the incident.’
    • ‘The Disability Rights Commission is set to get tough with firms that fail to comply with new laws.’
    • ‘For the same reason, the Commissioner is unlikely to use the law as a tool against firms which fail to implement the code.’
    • ‘Enterprises have also failed to comply with their assigned pension contributions.’
    • ‘He had also failed to store the money collected during the afternoon in the separate time-locked safes as he was supposed to.’
    • ‘Have the independent firms been failing to count significant bulk sales of the device?’
    1. 2.1[with infinitive]Behave in a way contrary to expectations by not doing something.
      ‘commuter chaos has again failed to materialize’
      • ‘The company, which failed to meet profit expectations, also said it would temporarily idle more plants.’
      • ‘Here we assess who lived up to expectations - and who failed to rise to the occasion.’
      • ‘Sadly they were understaffed, swamped by the number of calls they received, and the initiative misfired - raising expectations but failing to deliver on them.’
      • ‘The progress of the boys is monitored for about a year, and if they fail to live up to expectations, they are dropped for the following year.’
      • ‘This either means analysts were too optimistic in their expectations, or companies failed to live up to such demanding goals.’
      • ‘If they fail to meet those expectations they will find that the climate for coming back for more will be very different.’
      • ‘He found work in Nepal but it dried up when a building contract failed to materialise.’
      • ‘When the supposedly expected guffaws fail to materialize, Martin feigns puzzlement.’
      • ‘So often we anxiously anticipate certain releases only to find ourselves disappointed when they fail to match our expectations.’
      • ‘The bank also predicts a sharp deterioration in the public finances as growth and tax revenues fail to meet government expectations.’
      • ‘Sometimes, eagerly anticipated musical encounters fail to meet expectations, but when these titans of the tenor sax got together in 1957, the results were stunning.’
      • ‘And yet the professionals have not been playing to expectation, sometimes failing to beat the second round cut when amateurs recorded better scores.’
      • ‘Such zero-damage expectations themselves risk creating a feeling of defeatism when the expectations understandably fail to come true.’
      • ‘Contrary to the expectations, the film failed to click at the box office.’
      • ‘Sometimes, however, he fails to meet those expectations.’
      • ‘I defined failure earlier in terms of disappointed expectations and suggested that Saleem fails to fulfill the expectations he creates for himself.’
      • ‘Promises made by the government have also failed to materialise.’
      • ‘Yet by failing to meet expectations of a radical cabinet rehaul, he may yet be confronted by unruly backbenchers.’
      • ‘We don't know - I don't want to create expectations and then fail to deliver on our promises.’
      • ‘‘When the income rate and working conditions fail to meet their expectations, many choose to give up,’ Yan said.’
    2. 2.2Used to express a strong belief that something must be the case.
      ‘she cannot have failed to be aware of the situation’
    3. 2.3Used to indicate that something invariably happens.
      ‘such comments never failed to annoy him’
    4. 2.4[with object]Desert or let down (someone)
      ‘at the last moment her nerve failed her’
      • ‘For a moment all his senses failed him then slowly came back as his healing ability kicked in.’
      • ‘For some reason, however, his nerve failed him and he never made the attack.’
      • ‘He tried to think of something to say, but words failed him at the moment.’
      • ‘After a good fifteen minutes, she finally turned to go, her nerves failing her.’
      • ‘When Henry finally got the chance to sprint towards goal just after the half-hour, his nerve failed him.’
      • ‘According to Dr Kilkelly, the Children's Court system is failing many young people and causing them to enter an endless cycle of offending.’
      • ‘The group claims current laws are failing children and fathers and wants better parenting rights for fathers.’
      • ‘They simply couldn't bear to fail their parents by admitting that they'd made a mistake.’
      • ‘Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?’
      • ‘I don't want to fail my parents because I know they've been working hard for the family to make enough money for us to buy each other birthday and Christmas presents.’
      • ‘Any semblance of nerve failed him, and for the second time in his life, Sakki Ryu ran from a fight.’
      • ‘His mouth opened to speak, his mind had a thousand things to say, but his throat failed him on that moment.’
      • ‘This latest attempt to make the long-term care system fairer arises as evidence grows that it is failing many people.’
      • ‘They among the 70-strong gathering who came to hear Abbott discuss how modern society is failing its young people, in particular, adolescents.’
      • ‘Her convent education fails her in her moment of greatest need, though it does enable her to retrace her steps down an older path with new eyes.’
      • ‘We've got our education failing indigenous people.’
      • ‘His first intimation that his nerves are failing him occurs while he is out jogging in the Catholic cemetery.’
      • ‘Words often failed him, his memory sometimes betrayed him, but his vision was large and clear.’
      • ‘Plus, it would be failing the people who donated the books to sell them for less than they were really worth.’
      • ‘I tried to communicate to him that he was wrong, that there was evidence that he was wrong, but at that crucial moment I failed him.’
      let down, disappoint, break one's promise to, dash someone's hopes, fall short of someone's expectations
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  • 3Cease to work properly; break down.

    ‘a lorry whose brakes had failed’
    • ‘A system is put under load and either passes or fails.’
    • ‘His nightmare was based on once when his brakes nearly failed going along Clapham Common.’
    • ‘The time at which you activate your parachute system plays an important part in the amount of time you have to stop if the parachute fails to deploy properly.’
    • ‘Mobile phone systems failed due to overloading, creating long lines as people queued to use pay phones.’
    • ‘Before Gulbransen could feather the prop it too failed and continued to spin out of control.’
    • ‘However, in March of that year the pump failed due to underground movement in the old shaft and increasing amounts of silt.’
    • ‘The lift has failed several times since it opened, and the shuttle bus has been pressed back into service intermittently.’
    • ‘It is part owner of one of the transmission lines that failed early on the day of the blackout.’
    • ‘Enrique ran for a total of 65 laps taking the engine past its target mileage before it finally failed.’
    • ‘Should Service Pack 2 fail to install properly, the guide also explains how to restore your computer to a working state.’
    break down, break, stop working, cease to function, cut out, stop, stall, crash, give out
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    1. 3.1Become weaker or of poorer quality.
      ‘the light began to fail’
      ‘his failing health’
      • ‘The light was beginning to fail as it got later, and the street was less crowded than it had been earlier.’
      • ‘When her health began to fail she moved to a residential home in Whitley Bay, where she died eight weeks later.’
      • ‘Michael's health began to fail about two years ago and it deteriorated seriously from which he did not really recover.’
      • ‘However, his health began to fail in May of 1932 when he suffered heart problems.’
      • ‘Although his health was beginning to fail, he still had that enthusiasm I first felt so many years earlier, and I became inspired by it all over again.’
      • ‘He worked until earlier this year, when his health began to fail.’
      • ‘By 1885 John Orme's health had begun to fail, and he found it necessary to resign his preaching duties.’
      • ‘When his health began to fail, the family auctioned off the game collection to pay for the medical bills that he had accrued during a long illness.’
      • ‘On that occasion he did not enjoy the mobility of previous years as his health had begun to fail.’
      • ‘Towards the end of the afternoon, as the light began to fail, the first of several squadrons of wild geese came flying over the house on their way to the fields where they spend their nights.’
      • ‘His health began to fail, and he retired to the Pyrenees, where he convalesced until his health improved.’
      • ‘In 2004, his health began to fail, but given his strong unyielding spirit he continued his work as long as was practical.’
      • ‘Mavis's health first began to fail in January and in March she was diagnosed with mesothelioma.’
      • ‘The two women became friends, and when Jackson's health began to fail, she left her unfinished manuscript in Lotty's hands with instructions about how it was to be arranged.’
      • ‘In the last years his health began to fail but Johnnie held on bravely to the last and did not complain.’
      • ‘In latter years, although his health was beginning to fail, he still enjoyed the company of friends and neighbours and had a big interest in the local football team.’
      • ‘In 1944 her health began to fail, and she was hospitalized the following year.’
      • ‘We happened to be there just before his health began to fail rapidly.’
      • ‘Another case against Ivol was abandoned last year after her health began to fail and she died in September last year.’
      • ‘Years later, when her health began to fail, it was here that she wanted to spend her last days.’
      deteriorate, degenerate, decline, go into decline, fade, diminish, dwindle, wane, ebb, sink, collapse, decay
      fade, grow less, grow dim, dim, die away, dwindle, wane, disappear, vanish, peter out, dissolve
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    2. 3.2(of rain or a crop or supply) be insufficient when needed or expected.
      ‘the drought means crops have failed’
      • ‘If the rains fail or someone falls ill, they have to sell what little they have - perhaps a pig or a goat - to buy medicines.’
      • ‘But once again this year the rains have failed, and the crops are scorched and wilted.’
      • ‘The Northumbrian water supply failed during Christmas 1995 when the main pipes froze.’
      • ‘But although conditions are basic and power supplies sometimes fail, pitching the mess tent into darkness, no one is complaining too much.’
      • ‘Here in northern Afghanistan, for the first time in four years, the rains didn't fail, and these farmers are now reaping the benefits.’
      • ‘Several southern African countries face famine because crops have failed as a result of drought or flooding or both.’
      • ‘As foot and mouth sweeps the land and crops fail because of the disastrous growing season, farmers must be wondering where the next disaster will come from.’
      • ‘Even as we speak, what worries us is the fact that our crop is failing because of the rains, because of the drought, and we are not the only ones who are hit with it.’
      • ‘One crop might fail, but another will survive - there are heartbreaks here too, but no single moment of crisis, as with a monocultural cash crop.’
      • ‘Outside, the parched soil has turned to dust and his crops have failed disastrously.’
      • ‘It is an agricultural and market town but the crops have failed for each of the last two years.’
      • ‘In Northland though if one crop fails, the next is right there, almost ready.’
      • ‘Agriculture in Africa is rain-fed, and when those rains fail so do the crops, exacerbating food insecurity.’
      • ‘A lot of them grow their own maize, but if that year's crop fails they've got no food.’
      • ‘Even though it was scary when four out of five main power lines were down and we thought the water supply might fail, a straight drama about those events would have been painful.’
      • ‘Women are giving birth to dead babies, the crops are failing, the rain isn't falling, there are blights and there are plagues.’
      • ‘This year's maize crop is expected to fail, worsening already serious food shortages.’
      • ‘Dr John Harrison, a climate expert from the University of Stirling, says crops will fail before the land is flooded as salt impregnates the soil.’
      • ‘For myself, I had an ambitious plan to grow corn, but the crop failed.’
      • ‘Last year's crop failed because of too much rain; this year there is too little.’
      be deficient, be wanting, be lacking, fall short, be insufficient, be inadequate
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    3. 3.3(of a business or a person) cease trading because of lack of funds.
      ‘he lost his savings when the store failed’
      • ‘Akwaake said it has been noted that many new businesses fail because of the lack of mentoring.’
      • ‘I will not stand by and watch American businesses fail because of unfair trading practices abroad.’
      • ‘Blair Nimmo: ‘Throughout 2003 we have seen a marked reduction in the number of Scottish businesses failing,’.’
      • ‘How many countries do you know that will let a business employing 17,000 people fail?’
      • ‘Firms fail - no one can legislate away investor risk.’
      • ‘Not only is Gordon's business failing, but he and his wife have a baby girl who won't stop crying - so he's delirious from sleep deprivation and guilt.’
      • ‘More than a few businesses have failed because of lack of proper planning for capital and cash flow needs.’
      • ‘Considerable jockeying for position takes place as the companies' battle each other in the market place for survival, with the weaker firms failing and dropping out.’
      • ‘If, however, the business is failing and the asset base is being gradually eroded, an early decision may leave some capital for reinvestment.’
      • ‘There are three things to worry about if your law firm fails.’
      • ‘When firms fail, there rarely is any reason for taxpayers to pick up the tab.’
      • ‘In the short term, however, some jobs would likely be lost as firms fail or restructure in the face of increased competition.’
      • ‘Yet, businesses fail because of a lack of knowledge, money, and support.’
      • ‘I think in India it is still an issue of economics and you have to worry about the future, and if your business fails, your entire clan is affected and is sorrowful and that puts additional pressure.’
      • ‘Rupert's business was failing, so his motive for co-operating with the FBI was at first financial.’
      • ‘His business ventures failed, and his offers to fight in the Napoleonic wars were refused.’
      • ‘A picture of a tough home life emerged, with her ex-military father's business ventures failing and Mills admitting she was forced to steal food.’
      • ‘Well, better that than the business failing altogether, is the obvious riposte.’
      • ‘This could lead to a rash of negative reports from any auditor whose business is failing.’
      be unsuccessful, not succeed, lack success, fall through, fall flat, break down, abort, miscarry, be defeated, suffer defeat, be in vain, be frustrated, collapse, founder, misfire, backfire, not come up to scratch, meet with disaster, come to grief, come to nothing, come to naught, miss the mark, run aground, go astray
      collapse, crash, go under, go bankrupt, become insolvent, go into receivership, be in the hands of the receivers, go into liquidation, cease trading, cease production, be closed, be shut down, close down, be wound up
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  • 1A mark which is not high enough to pass an examination or test.

    [as modifier] ‘a fail grade’
    • ‘He has one pass in biology (grade D) a fail in chemistry (grade N) and an unclassified in maths.’
    • ‘I swiftly came to the conclusion that anything above a fail grade would be a triumph.’
    • ‘This is something I cannot avoid because German law does not allow me to give a pass or fail grade.’
    • ‘The pollen certificate might help them get a fail upgraded to a pass grade, or even a lower than expected pass grade increased.’
    • ‘A letter or pass / fail grade, depending on district policy, is filed with the school at the appropriate time.’
    • ‘Most disappointing of all was his recent essay on improving the public health, for which he was given a borderline fail grade.’
    • ‘These fail marks meant that 336 high school students were not allowed to graduate.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But if top management scored high on crisis management, they get a fail grade when it comes to crisis aversion.’
    • ‘If you don't know what a pass or a fail would mean with respect to finding the problem's cause, then don't run that test because it is a waste of time.’
    • ‘The rest of the day went quickly except for a few fails in tests but hey, what's new?’
    • ‘In Buchanan County, Missouri, 81% of students involved in a CTC programme improved their grades from fail to pass in two or more subjects.’
    • ‘I was waiting for Miss Nichols to let me into the maths room, so that I could do the one hour exam and hopefully boost my maths mark above a fail.’
  • 2informal 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’
    • ‘The more fails allowed, the longer the test required.’
    • ‘That was it, game over, we limped into the last control having dropped 20 mins alone on the second half and collecting a fail.’
    • ‘For the sake of that potential, I'm willing to put up with some fail.’
    • ‘Who knows, it might still be a fail.’
    • ‘Wow, talk about an epic fail on that guy's part.’
    fiasco, debacle, catastrophe, disaster, blunder, vain attempt, abortion, defeat
    error, fault, inaccuracy, omission, slip, blunder, miscalculation, misunderstanding, flaw, oversight, misinterpretation, fallacy, gaffe, faux pas, solecism, misapprehension, misconception, misreading
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  • 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’
      • ‘In Japan, such large companies were viewed as simply too big to fail.’
      • ‘This environment is bringing new meaning to the doctrine of "Too Big to Fail."’
      • ‘Due to recent megamergers and the emergence of large, complex banking entities, do we now find ourselves in a state of elevated moral hazard where "too big to fail" becomes a dominant concern?’
      • ‘Today, leveraged speculation has become "too big to fail."’
      • ‘They hope to become too big to fail.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘And the greater the accumulation of foreign liabilities, the more the Monetary Regime became "too big to fail."’
      • ‘The GSEs are today much too big to fail; much too big to even slow down; and, hence, too big to regulate.’
  • without fail

    • With no exception; always.

      ‘he writes every week without fail’
      • ‘We got to choose a sweet for under 10 pence and she always, without fail, abandoned us at the checkout.’
      • ‘There was one of those pregnant silences that always grace a table without fail.’
      • ‘This always cheered me up, without fail, and this time was no different.’
      • ‘It is the earliest of our primroses and the most reliable, appearing without fail each year, often blooming with the snowdrops in early February.’
      • ‘There are certain websites which always, without fail, get the wrong password out of me.’
      • ‘It is totally unfair that other clubs are supplying referees week in week out without fail and other clubs couldn't be bothered.’
      • ‘Why was it that whenever I was treated by fate to a romantic setting, I was always, without fail, ALONE?’
      • ‘I think the flood problems in Jakarta are almost impossible to solve, because the city floods every year, without fail.’
      • ‘Above all, the resilience of the human spirit, present without fail in each location, is what has kept the filmmaker going.’
      • ‘The lawmakers should be called to account without fail for their reckless actions that run contrary to national interest.’
      • ‘She also paid tribute to all the cardplayers who came along without fail each Sunday night and helped in a really big way to make this possible.’
      • ‘The cargo truckers' case should become a good precedent that any illegal action will face punishment by law without fail.’
      • ‘Natascha, Tash to most, was the first to admit that nervousness always and without fail got the better of her.’
      • ‘They are studying plans to give those who turn up for work without fail extra days of holiday and even the chance to win prizes in order to make sure enough bobbies are on the beat.’
      • ‘And yet, my mother would tune in every morning without fail, to follow the latest exploits of the main characters.’
      • ‘My father worked three jobs to care for his family and without fail he always made a point to be home for the family dinner.’
      • ‘Roast beef and chicken dinners are weekly occurrences and on every occasion without fail the meat is always perfect.’
      • ‘Its colours and moods thrill the soul, ever changing in a reassuring regular manner, season after season, without fail.’
      • ‘Constantly, without fail, she'd find herself in a group who completely ignored her.’
      • ‘I am the one they'll sit next to on public transport without fail.’
      without exception, unfailingly, constantly, regularly, invariably, dependably, conscientiously, reliably, faithfully, predictably, punctually, religiously, whatever happened, always
      like clockwork
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Middle English: from Old French faillir (verb), faille (noun), based on Latin fallere deceive.