an act or instance of failing; failure: His failing is due to general incompetence.
a defect or fault; shortcoming; weakness: His lack of knowledge is a grave failing.


in the absence or default of: Failing payment, we shall sue.

Origin of failing

Middle English word dating back to 1250–1300; see origin at fail, -ing1
Related formsfail·ing·ly, adverbfail·ing·ness, noun

Synonyms for failing

2. See fault.



verb (used without object)

to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved: The experiment failed because of poor planning.
to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination, class, or course of study: He failed in history.
to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short: Our supplies failed.
to dwindle, pass, or die away: The flowers failed for lack of rain.
to lose strength or vigor; become weak: His health failed after the operation.
to become unable to meet or pay debts or business obligations; become insolvent or bankrupt.
(of a building member, structure, machine part, etc.) to break, bend, crush, or be otherwise destroyed or made useless because of an excessive load.
to stop functioning or operating: The electricity failed during the storm.
  1. to make an embarrassing or humorous mistake, be in a humiliating situation, etc., and be subject to ridicule: Showed up late to the wedding? You fail!
  2. to be embarrassingly incompetent, stupid, etc.: She fails at life. I just failed at walking and fell on my face.
  3. to be bad or of inferior quality: The play is terrible—even the music fails.

verb (used with object)

to be unsuccessful in the performance or completion of: He failed to do his duty.
(of some expected or usual resource) to prove of no use or help to: His friends failed him. Words failed her.
to receive less than a passing grade or mark in: He failed history.
to declare (a person) unsuccessful in a test, course of study, etc.; give less than a passing grade to: The professor failed him in history.


  1. an embarrassing or humorous mistake, humiliating situation, etc., that is subject to ridicule and given an exaggerated importance: Their app update is a massive fail.
  2. the condition or quality resulting from having failed in this way: His online post is full of fail.
  3. a person who fails in this way.
Stock Exchange.
  1. a stockbroker's inability to deliver or receive security within the required time after sale or purchase.
  2. such an undelivered security.
Obsolete. failure as to performance, occurrence, etc.


  1. (used to mock an embarrassing or humorous mistake, humiliating situation, etc., giving it an exaggerated importance): A tattoo that misspells your name? Fail!
  2. (used to indicate that something is bad or of inferior quality)


unsuccessful; failed: a totally fail policy.
  1. of or noting an embarrassing or humorous mistake, humiliating situation, etc.: the top 100 funniest fail photos on the Internet.
  2. embarrassingly incompetent, stupid, etc: Why am I so fail?
  3. very bad or of inferior quality.


    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 failing

Contemporary Examples of failing

Historical Examples of failing

  • We visited him at Winchester, and found him sorely old and with failing wits.

    The Armourer's Prentices

    Charlotte M. Yonge

  • Since we cannot reach all of them this week, we must try to reach seven; and failing in that, suppose we say one?

  • She's been failing all along, you know, and she has just cried herself down.

  • Wotan's heart ached at the thought of failing this friend he loved so well.

  • She is the daughter of an old and failing man, whose days are near their close.

    The Last of the Mohicans

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for failing



a weak point; flaw


(used to express a condition) in default offailing a solution this afternoon, the problem will have to wait until Monday
Derived Formsfailingly, adverb




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 failing

"defect, fault," 1580s, verbal noun from fail (v.).



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 failing


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.