synonyms, antonyms, definitions, examples & translations of fail in English

English Online Dictionary. What means fail‎? What does fail mean?



  • enPR: fāl, IPA(key): /feɪl/
  • Rhymes: -eɪl

Etymology 1

From Middle English failen, borrowed from Anglo-Norman faillir, from Vulgar Latin *fallire, alteration of Latin fallere (to deceive, disappoint), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰāl- (to lie, deceive) or Proto-Indo-European *sgʷʰh₂el- (to stumble). Compare Dutch feilen, falen (to fail, miss), German fehlen (to fail, miss, lack), Danish fejle (to fail, err), Swedish fela (to fail, be wanting, do wrong), Icelandic feila (to fail), Spanish fallar (to fail, miss).


fail (third-person singular simple present fails, present participle failing, simple past and past participle failed)

  1. (intransitive) To be unsuccessful.
    Throughout my life, I have always failed.
  2. (transitive) Not to achieve a particular stated goal. (Usage note: The direct object of this word is usually an infinitive.)
    The truck failed to start.
  3. (transitive) To neglect.
    The report fails to take into account all the mitigating factors.
  4. (intransitive, of a machine, etc.) To cease to operate correctly.
    After running five minutes, the engine failed.
  5. (transitive) To be wanting to, to be insufficient for, to disappoint, to desert.
    • Bible, 1 Kings ii. 4
      There shall not fail thee a man on the throne.
    • 1843, Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, book 3, ch. II, Gospel of Mammonism
      A poor Irish Widow […] went forth with her three children, bare of all resource, to solicit help from the Charitable Establishments of that City. At this Charitable Establishment and then at that she was refused; referred from one to the other, helped by none; — till she had exhausted them all; till her strength and heart failed her: she sank down in typhus-fever […]
  6. (transitive, intransitive) To receive one or more non-passing grades in academic pursuits.
    I failed English last year.
    I failed in English last year.
  7. (transitive) To give a student a non-passing grade in an academic endeavour.
    The professor failed me because I did not complete any of the course assignments.
  8. (transitive, obsolete) To miss attaining; to lose.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Milton
      though that seat of earthly bliss be failed
  9. To be wanting; to fall short; to be or become deficient in any measure or degree up to total absence.
    The crops failed last year.
    • Bible, Job xiv. 11
      as the waters fail from the sea
    • (Can we date this quote?) Shakespeare
      Till Lionel's issue fails, his should not reign.
  10. (archaic) To be affected with want; to come short; to lack; to be deficient or unprovided; used with of.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Berke
      If ever they fail of beauty, this failure is not to be attributed to their size.
  11. (archaic) To fall away; to become diminished; to decline; to decay; to sink.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Milton
      When earnestly they seek / Such proof, conclude they then begin to fail.
  12. (archaic) To deteriorate in respect to vigour, activity, resources, etc.; to become weaker.
    A sick man fails.
  13. (obsolete) To perish; to die; used of a person.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Shakespeare
      had the king in his last sickness failed
  14. (obsolete) To err in judgment; to be mistaken.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Milton
      Which ofttimes may succeed, so as perhaps / Shall grieve him, if I fail not.
  15. To become unable to meet one's engagements; especially, to be unable to pay one's debts or discharge one's business obligation; to become bankrupt or insolvent.
Usage notes
  • This is a catenative verb which takes the to infinitive. See Appendix:English catenative verbs
  • (to be unsuccessful): fall on one's face
  • (to be unsuccessful): succeed
Derived terms
  • failure
  • fail-safe
  • words fail someone
Related terms
  • default
  • fallacy
  • false
  • fault


fail (countable and uncountable, plural fails)

  1. (uncountable, slang) Poor quality; substandard workmanship.
    The project was full of fail.
  2. (slang) A failure (condition of being unsuccessful)
  3. (slang, US) A failure (something incapable of success)
  4. A failure, especially of a financial transaction (a termination of an action).
  5. A failing grade in an academic examination.


fail (comparative more fail, superlative most fail)

  1. (slang, US) That is a failure.

Etymology 2

Unknown. Compare Scottish Gaelic fàl (hedge), Scots faill (turf). Attested from the 16th century.

Alternative forms

  • feal


fail (plural fails)

  1. A piece of turf cut from grassland.
Derived terms
  • fail and divot


  • fail in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
  • fail in The Century Dictionary, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., 1911.
  • fail at OneLook Dictionary Search


  • -afil, alif, fila



From Old Irish foil, from Proto-Celtic *wali-, from Proto-Indo-European *wel-. Cognates include Ancient Greek ἕλιξ (hélix, something twisted).


  • IPA(key): /fˠalʲ/


fail f (genitive singular faile, nominative plural faileanna)

  1. ring
  2. bracelet
  3. wreath
  4. sty





From English file.


fail (plural fail-fail)

  1. file (collection of papers)
  2. information or a document about someone, something etc.
  3. (computing) file (aggregation of data on a storage device)

Derived terms

  • pemfailan (the process of filing)
  • berfail-fail (a lot of files)


fail (used in the form memfailkan)

  1. file (commit papers)
  2. file (to archive)
  3. (computing) file (store computer data)
  4. (with untuk) file (make a formal request)

Old Irish



  1. Alternative form of fil

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