[ dih-fawlt, dee-fawlt ]
See synonyms for default on
  1. failure to act; inaction or neglect: They lost their best client by sheer default.

  2. Finance. failure to meet financial obligations, as when a borrower misses or stops making monthly loan payments: A default on your mortgage can lead to losing the house.

  1. Law. failure to perform an act or obligation legally required, especially to appear in court or to plead at a time assigned: The judge dismissed the suit for default of the defendant.

  2. Sports. failure to arrive in time for, participate in, or complete a scheduled game, race, etc.: So far the Cougars have had three losses, two wins, and one default.

  3. a person’s automatic or standard way of acting or responding; go-to or reflex:Her default is to argue about everything I say, unless she’s in a really good mood.

  4. lack; want; absence: For default of anything better, he took a job washing dishes.

  5. Computers. a value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.

  1. being a person’s automatic or standard action, response, etc.; go-to: Chocolate is my default choice for ice cream, but when I feel adventurous I’ll go for something more exotic.

  2. Computers. (of a value, action, etc.) preset or preselected, unless the user or programmer gives other input or instruction: The default contrast setting on this display is 50 percent.

verb (used without object)
  1. to fail to meet financial obligations, such as payments on a loan, or to account properly for money in one's care: After he defaulted twice, the bank foreclosed on the car.

  2. to fail in fulfilling or satisfying an engagement, claim, or obligation: They said they would pick me up, but defaulted at the last minute.

  1. Law. to fail to appear in court: One of the key witnesses defaulted.

  2. Sports.

    • to fail to participate in or complete a scheduled game, race, etc.: I only placed in that race because my chief rival defaulted.

    • to lose a scheduled game, race, etc., by default.

  3. to behave or respond in a certain way automatically, habitually, or by preference (usually followed by to): It seems that in your relationships you default to being a caregiver instead of a partner.

  4. Computers. (of a program or operating system) to assume a preset value or take a preselected action unless otherwise instructed by the user or programmer (usually followed by to): Your profile defaults to public unless you set the permissions to private.

verb (used with object)
  1. to fail to perform or pay: to default a debt.

  2. to declare to be in default, especially legally: The judge defaulted the defendant.

  1. Law. to lose by failure to appear in court.

  2. Sports.

    • to fail to compete in (a scheduled game, race, etc.).

    • to lose by default.

Idioms about default

  1. in default of, for lack or want of; in the absence of: In default of male heirs, his daughters inherited his property.

Origin of default

First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English defau(l)te, from Anglo-French defalte, Old French defaute, from defaillir, modeled on faute, faillir; equivalent to de- + fault

Other words from default

  • non·de·fault·ing, adjective, noun
  • pre·de·fault, noun, verb
  • un·de·fault·ed, adjective
  • un·de·fault·ing, adjective

Words Nearby default Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use default in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for default


/ (dɪˈfɔːlt) /

  1. a failure to act, esp a failure to meet a financial obligation or to appear in a court of law at a time specified

  2. absence or lack

  1. by default in the absence of opposition or a better alternative: he became prime minister by default

  2. in default of through or in the lack or absence of

  3. judgment by default law a judgment in the plaintiff's favour when the defendant fails to plead or to appear

  4. lack, want, or need

  5. (also ˈdiːfɔːlt) computing

    • the preset selection of an option offered by a system, which will always be followed except when explicitly altered

    • (as modifier): default setting

  1. (intr; often foll by on or in) to fail to make payment when due

  2. (intr) to fail to fulfil or perform an obligation, engagement, etc: to default in a sporting contest

  1. law to lose (a case) by failure to appear in court

  2. (tr) to declare that (someone) is in default

Origin of default

C13: from Old French defaute, from defaillir to fail, from Vulgar Latin dēfallīre (unattested) to be lacking

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for default


Failure to pay a debt when it is due.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with default


see in default of.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.