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  1. an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success: His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
  2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected: a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear.
  3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency: the failure of crops.
  4. deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.: The failure of her health made retirement necessary.
  5. a condition of being bankrupt by reason of insolvency.
  6. a becoming insolvent or bankrupt: the failure of a bank.
  7. a person or thing that proves unsuccessful: He is a failure in his career. The cake is a failure.

Origin of failure

1635–45; fail + -ure; replacing failer a (de)fault < Anglo-French (noun use of infinitive), for Old French faillir
Related formsnon·fail·ure, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for failure


  1. the act or an instance of failing
  2. a person or thing that is unsuccessful or disappointingthe evening was a failure
  3. nonperformance of something required or expectedfailure to attend will be punished
  4. cessation of normal operation; breakdowna power failure
  5. an insufficiency or shortagea crop failure
  6. a decline or loss, as in health or strength
  7. the fact of not reaching the required standard in an examination, test, course, etc
  8. the act or process of becoming bankrupt or the state of being bankrupt
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 failure

1640s, failer, from Anglo-French failer, from Old French falir (see fail (v.)). The verb in Anglo-French used as a noun; ending altered 17c. to conform with words in -ure.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

failure in Medicine


  1. The inability to function or perform satisfactorily.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.