9 Grammatical Pitfalls


[feyl] /feɪl/
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 forms
unfailed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for fail
  • Many of the colleges would fail that test if they had to count military aid as federal money.
  • Money borrowed without security is a debt of honor which must be paid without fail and promptly as possible.
  • The owners and the players will lose a lot of money if they fail to come to an agreement soon.
  • Few corporate histories better illustrate the fact that companies can make groundbreaking products but fail to make money.
  • There is no question that you might fail if you try something new.
  • Most commenting systems that promise anonymity fail to deliver it.
  • But what many opponents of the project worry about is what happens if those normal operations fail.
  • For example, monkeys have shown signs of self-monitoring on mental tasks even though they fail the mirror test.
  • There are several points at which a saliva sample can fail to yield high-quality genetic data.
  • They become dogmatic about their specific practices and fail to question their relevance when conditions change.
British Dictionary definitions for fail


to be unsuccessful in an attempt (at something or to do something)
(intransitive) to stop operating or working properly: the steering failed suddenly
to judge or be judged as being below the officially accepted standard required for success in (a course, examination, etc)
(transitive) to prove disappointing, undependable, or useless to (someone)
(transitive) to neglect or be unable (to do something)
(intransitive) to prove partly or completely insufficient in quantity, duration, or extent
(intransitive) to weaken; fade away
(intransitive) to go bankrupt or become insolvent
a failure to attain the required standard, as in an examination
without fail, definitely; with certainty
Word Origin
C13: from Old French faillir, ultimately from Latin fallere to disappoint; probably related to Greek phēlos deceitful


(Scot) a turf; sod
Word Origin
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
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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
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Idioms and Phrases with fail
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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