1. verb If you fail to do something that you were trying to do, you are unable to do it or do not succeed in doing it. [V to-inf] ⇒ The Workers' Party failed to win a single governorship. [V + in] ⇒ He failed in his attempt to take control of the company. [V] ⇒ Many of us have tried to lose weight and failed miserably. [V-ed] ⇒ The truth is, I'm a failed comedy writer really. 2. verb If an activity, attempt, or plan fails, it is not successful. [V] ⇒ We tried to develop plans for them to get along, which all failed miserably. [V] ⇒ He was afraid the revolution they had started would fail. [V-ed] ⇒ After a failed military offensive, all government troops and police were withdrawn from the island. 3. verb
If someone or something fails to do a particular thing that they should have done, they do not do it. [formal] [V to-inf] ⇒ Some schools fail to set any homework. [V to-inf] ⇒ He failed to file tax returns for 1982. [V to-inf] ⇒ The bomb failed to explode.
4. verb If something fails, it stops working properly, or does not do what it is supposed to do. [V] ⇒ The lights mysteriously failed, and we stumbled around in complete darkness. [V] ⇒ In fact many food crops failed because of the drought. 5. verb If a business, organization, or system fails, it becomes unable to continue in operation or in existence. [business] [V] ⇒ So far this year, 104 banks have failed. [V-ed] ⇒ ...a failed hotel business. [V-ing] ⇒ Who wants to buy a computer from a failing company? 6. verb If something such as your health or a physical quality is failing, it is becoming gradually weaker or less effective. [V] ⇒ He was 58, and his health was failing rapidly. [V] ⇒ Here in the hills, the light failed more quickly. [V-ing] ⇒ An apparently failing memory is damaging for a national leader. 7. verb If someone fails you, they do not do what you had expected or trusted them to do. [V n] ⇒ We waited twenty-one years, don't fail us now. [V n] ⇒ ...communities who feel that the political system has failed them. 8. verb If someone fails in their duty or fails in their responsibilities, they do not do everything that they have a duty or a responsibility to do. [V in n] ⇒ Lawyers are accused of failing in their duties to advise clients of their rights. [V + in] ⇒ If we did not report what was happening in the country, we would be failing in our duty. 9. verb If a quality or ability that you have fails you, or if it fails, it is not good enough in a particular situation to enable you to do what you want to do. [V n] ⇒ For once, the artist's fertile imagination failed him. [V] ⇒ Their courage failed a few steps short and they came running back. 10. verb If someone fails a test, examination, or course, they perform badly in it and do not reach the standard that is required. [V n] ⇒ I lived in fear of failing my end-of-term exams. Fail is also a noun. ⇒ It's the difference between a pass and a fail. → exam 11. verb
If someone fails you in a test, examination, or course, they judge that you have not reached a high enough standard in it. [V n] ⇒ ...the two men who had failed him during his first year of law school.
COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. Copyright © Harper Collins Publishers