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verb fail pronunciation in American English /feɪl/ 
Word Forms
present tense
present participlefailing
past tensefailed
past participlefailed
  1. 1
    [intransitive] to be unsuccessful when you try to do something

    Most people who try to lose weight fail dismally.

    fail to do something:

    They have failed to come up with any practical solutions.

    fail in:

    He failed in his attempt to get compensation.

    1. a.
      used about actions or plans

      Attempts to revive him failed.

      It looks as if the negotiations are going to fail.

  2. 2
    [intransitive] to not do something that people expect you to do
    fail to do something:

    She failed to give any explanation for her actions.

    He failed to come home at the usual time.

    fail in your duty/obligation:

    The government is failing in its duty to protect people.

    1. a.
      [transitive] if someone fails you, they do not do what they promised or what you trusted them to do

      He felt he had failed his teammates.

      The political system has failed us.

      Synonyms and related words for this sense of fail
  3. 3
    [intransitive/transitive] to be unsuccessful in achieving a satisfactory level or standard

    The new airplane failed a safety test.

    She failed all her tests.

    fail on:

    I failed on the written part of my driver's test.

    1. a.
      [transitive] to decide that someone or something has not achieved a satisfactory score or standard

      Teachers failed nearly 30% of the students.

  4. 4
    [intransitive] if something such as a machine or an organ in your body fails, it no longer works correctly

    The brakes failed and the van crashed into a tree.

    1. a.
      if someone's health is failing, they are becoming weak and less able to do things

      He is old now and his health is starting to fail.

    2. b.
      if something such as a business or a relationship fails, it has a lot of problems and can no longer continue

      If interest rates go up, more small businesses will fail.

    3. d.
  5. 5
    [transitive] mainly literary if a quality or ability fails you, you suddenly lose it

    At the last minute, her courage failed her.

    Synonyms and related words for this sense of fail



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