without fail, with certainty; positively: I will visit you tomorrow without fail.

Origin of fail

1175–1225; Middle English failen < Anglo-French, Old French faillir < Vulgar Latin *fallīre, for Latin fallere to disappoint, deceive
Related formsun·failed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for fail

Contemporary Examples of fail

Historical Examples of fail

  • To my mind, under the conditions I have referred to, such could not fail to be the case.

    'Tis Sixty Years Since

    Charles Francis Adams

  • If we fail, there must be a retreat westwards at least seventy miles.

  • God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!

  • If an increase of power was needed to secure this, they would not fail to ask it.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • He touched her hand with his lips and said gravely: "I will not fail your trust."


    William J. Locke

British Dictionary definitions for fail




to be unsuccessful in an attempt (at something or to do something)
(intr) to stop operating or working properlythe steering failed suddenly
to judge or be judged as being below the officially accepted standard required for success in (a course, examination, etc)
(tr) to prove disappointing, undependable, or useless to (someone)
(tr) to neglect or be unable (to do something)
(intr) to prove partly or completely insufficient in quantity, duration, or extent
(intr) to weaken; fade away
(intr) to go bankrupt or become insolvent


a failure to attain the required standard, as in an examination
without fail definitely; with certainty

Word Origin for fail

C13: from Old French faillir, ultimately from Latin fallere to disappoint; probably related to Greek phēlos deceitful




Scot a turf; sod

Word Origin for fail

perhaps from Scottish Gaelic fàl
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

Word Origin and History for fail

early 13c., from Old French falir (11c., Modern French faillir) "be lacking, miss, not succeed," from Vulgar Latin *fallire, from Latin fallere "to trip, cause to fall;" figuratively "to deceive, trick, dupe, cheat, elude; fail, be lacking or defective." Related: Failed; failing. Replaced Old English abreoðan.


late 13c. (e.g. without fail), from Old French faile "deficiency," from falir (see fail (v.)). The Anglo-French form of the verb, failer, also came to be used as a noun, hence failure.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with fail


see without fail; words fail me.

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