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Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/14/2012

This article keeps you on the right track when it comes to learning ways to say in Spanish that something, or someone, fails.

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    Don't Fail to Take Notice of This Verb!

    From failing a course to failing to do something, to disappointing someone... there are a number of uses of to fail in English. Let's explore the various verbs in Spanish that correspond to the many faces of this one English verb.

    The Spanish verb fracasar is usually the first one listed in bilingual dictionaries, It doesn't cover as much ground as the English verb. It means to not succeed at something, or to generally make a mess of things in some way.

    Miguel, no va a fracasar esta vez (Miguel isn't going to fail this time).

    No vayas a fracasar, ¿eh? (Don't go and mess up, ok?)

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    The same verb can be used to express failing a class, but usually the verb suspender or the verb phrases quedar suspendido or ser suspendido are used when referring to failing a course. Note that the form suspendida as well as the plural forms suspendidos/suspendidas must be used if referring to more than one person or more than one female subject.

    Mi amigo fracasó en la clase de geografía (My friend failed the geography class).

    Mis amigas quedaron suspendidas el trimestre pasado (My [girl]friends flunked last quarter).

    Nunca he sido suspendido (I have never flunked [a class, quiz, etc.]).

    The verb suspender can be used actively, that is, when the professor is the subject, to show that he or she flunked someone:

    El professor me suspendió (The prof flunked me).

    The noun suspenso -- meaning a failing grade -- can be used too (even though the actual word for a grade in Spanish is una nota):

    Me dio un suspenso (He gave me a failing grade).

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    When English speakers mean to fail to do something rather than failing at something, Spanish uses dejar de plus an infinitive:

    Mis alumnos dejaron de entregar su trabajo final (My students failed to hand in their final paper).

    This same construction, depending on context, also means to quit doing something, such as a bad habit:

    Mi abuelo dejó de fumar (My grandfather quit smoking).

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    To not keep one's word or to break one's promises is expressed with falter a, as well as simply falter and the indirect object pronoun referring to the person who has been deceived, disappointed or otherwise impacted by the subject's turpitude:

    Susana siempre falta a su palabra (Susan never keeps her word).

    Esa chica me faltó cuando salió con Juan (That girl disappointed/deceived/failed me when she went out with Juan).

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    Finally, using most any action verb in the preterite with no in front of it will convey the idea of failing to...:

    El tren no vino (The train failed to show).

    Los perros no encontraron el conejo (The dogs failed to find the rabbit).

Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
  1. Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
  2. Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
  9. Using "Anyway..." in Spanish
  10. Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
  14. Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
  20. Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
  25. The Word "Country" in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
  28. How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with... In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
  31. Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
  33. Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting -- Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing... and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal