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fail - definition and synonyms

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verb     fail pronunciation in British English
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.

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

    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 team-mates.

      The political system has failed us.

  3. 3
    [intransitive/transitive] to be unsuccessful in achieving a satisfactory level or standard

    She failed all her exams.

    fail on:

    I failed on the written part of my driving test.

    1. a.
      [transitive] to decide that someone or something has not achieved a satisfactory score or standard
  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
    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. c.
      if crops fail, they do not finish growing and cannot be used for food
    4. d.
      if the rains fail, it does not rain during the usual season or time of the year
  5. 5
    [transitive] mainly literary if a quality or ability fails you, you suddenly lose it

    At the last minute, her courage failed her.

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