Date: 1200-1300
Language: Old French
Origin: faillir, from Latin fallere 'to deceive, disappoint'


1 verb
fail1 S2 W1

not succeed

[intransitive] to not succeed in achieving something:
It looks likely that the peace talks will fail.
fail in
He failed in his attempt to regain the world title.
fail to do something
Doctors failed to save the girl's life.
Millions of people have tried to quit smoking and failed miserably (=been completely unsuccessful).
his efforts to save his failing marriage
If all else fails, you may be advised to have an operation.

not do something

[intransitive] to not do what is expected, needed, or wanted
fail to do something
The letter failed to arrive.
Firms that fail to take advantage of the new technology will go out of business.
The government are failing in their duty to protect people.


a) [intransitive and transitive] to not pass a test or examination:
I failed my driving test the first time I took it.
He failed maths but passed all his other subjects.
b) [transitive] to decide that someone has not passed a test or examination:
Her work was so bad that I had no choice but to fail her.

I fail to see/understand

formal used to show that you are annoyed by something that you do not accept or understand:
I fail to see why you find it so amusing.


[intransitive]BBC if a company or business fails, it is unable to continue because of a lack of money

machine/body part

[intransitive] if a part of a machine or an organ in your body fails, it stops working:
The engine failed on take-off.
The hospital said that his kidneys were failing.


MI [intransitive] if your sight, memory, health etc is failing, it is gradually getting weaker or is not as good as it was:
Failing eyesight forced him to retire early.

never fail to do something

to do something or happen so regularly that people expect it:
My grandson never fails to phone me on my birthday.

your courage/will/nerve fails (you)

if your courage etc fails, or if it fails you, you suddenly do not have it when you need it:
She had to leave immediately, before her courage failed her.

fail somebody

to not do what someone has trusted you to do [= let somebody down]:
I feel I've failed my children by not spending more time with them.


[intransitive]TAC if crops fail, they do not grow or produce food, for example because of bad weather


[intransitive]DN if the rains (=a lot of rain that falls at a particular time each year) fail, they do not come when expected or it does not rain enough

➔ words fail me

at word1 (28)

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