[ dih-fawlt, dee-fawlt ]
/ dɪˈfɔlt, ˈdiˌfɔlt /
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verb (used without object)
verb (used with object)
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Idioms about default

    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, derivative of defaillir, after faute, faillir; see de-, fault, fail


non·de·fault·ing, adjective, nounpre·de·fault, noun, verbun·de·fault·ed, adjectiveun·de·fault·ing, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does default mean in loans?

Default is the failure to meet one’s financial obligations, for example, when a borrower misses or stops making monthly loan payments. Default on a loan can make it difficult to get loans in the future and may have other serious consequences.

If a person defaults on a home mortgage, the bank may foreclose on the loan and take over ownership of the property, to sell it in order to recoup as much of the unpaid portion of the loan as possible.

The term not only applies to individuals, but also to businesses and governments that cannot pay back their debts.

Default can also mean failure to account properly for money in one’s care.

Examples of default in a sentence

“Borrowers pay interest to lenders to compensate them for the use of borrowed funds, and as a safeguard against the borrower defaulting on the loan.”
—”What Is A Good Interest Rate?” Rocket Loans. Retrieved March 15, 2020.

“You may qualify for some types of credit or loan approvals using a co-signer or someone close to you who guarantees they will be legally responsible for paying back your debt if you default on the loan or cannot make payments.”
—”Bad Credit Is Scary: 5 Quick Strategies To Improve Your Credit Score” Rocket Loans. Retrieved March 15, 2020.

“Residential mortgage default is a complex event triggered by a host of household and socio-economic events. The recent collapse of the subprime market, coupled with the imposing downturn in the housing and broader economic markets has resulted in a rapidly expanding rate of mortgage defaults, many of which end in foreclosure and REO [real estate owned, that is, by the lender].”
—Allen C. Goodman and Brent C. Smith, “Housing Defaults: Theory Works and so Does Policy,” Introduction, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Diane Publishing: 2010.

Other terms connected with the topic of default

What are some terms connected to the topic of default?


What does default mean?

As a verb, default most commonly means to fail to make a payment, especially on a loan.

It is also commonly used to refer to original, preset options, such as the default settings of a device or app.

Default has many meanings, but most of them involve the absence of something, such as a better alternative (especially in the phrase by default), or a failure to do something, such as make a payment or appear in court. When someone fails to make a payment on a mortgage or other loan, they are said to be in default. 

Example: There are no other candidates in the race, so he was declared the winner by default.

Where does default come from?

Default has been in use since around the 1200s. It comes from the Old French defaute, from the verb defaillir, meaning “to fail.” Defaillir derives from the Vulgar Latin dēfallīre, “to be lacking.” This is a good reminder that default typically refers to failing to do something or something that’s lacking.

When used in a financial context, default refers to a failure to pay back a loan, as in We’re going to default on our mortgage if we can’t make the payment by the end of the month. When this happens, a person is said to be in default. Less commonly, default can refer to losing a court case by failing to appear. The same meaning is sometimes used in sports, but the word forfeit is a more common way to say this.

The other common meaning of default has to do with the absence of something. When you fill out a form, it often has default responses that you can change—or leave as they are. When you get a new phone, it comes with default settings, meaning the preset, “factory settings” that you can then change and customize based on your preferences. Relatedly, default is used as a noun in the context of software to refer to a preset option or command that will be followed unless it is changed, as in please don’t alter the system defaults. Software will default (revert) to the defaults (presets) in default of (in the absence of) other options. The phrase in default of is commonly used in many contexts to refer to the absence of something, such as in the sentence In default of proper evidence, we could not charge the suspect with a crime. 

One of the most common uses of default is in the phrase by default, which means “in the absence of other options or better alternatives,” as in We have no other entries, so it looks like this one will win by default. It can also mean something like “as a natural or normal state,” as in I’m a calm person by default, so I don’t often get upset or angry.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms of default?

  • nondefaulting (adjective, noun)
  • predefault (noun, verb)
  • undefaulted (adjective)
  • undefaulting (adjective)

What are some synonyms for default?

What are some words that share a root or word element with default


What are some words that often get used in discussing default?


How is default used in real life?

Default is commonly used in the context of loans, mortgages, device presets, forms, and software. It is especially used in phrases like by default, in default, and in default of.



Try using default!

Is default used correctly in the following sentence?

I reverted my phone to the factory presets and now I have to change all the default settings again.

How to use default in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for default

/ (dɪˈfɔːlt) /


Word Origin for 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.