The use of 'fail' - 给力英语

The use of 'fail'

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1. As late as Jensen 1935 some commentators were still proscribing the transitive uses "to be unsuc­cessful in passing" and "to grade (as a student) as not passing." These uses appeared in the early 20th century and became widespread in the 1940s and 1950s. Although they have not supplanted the corresponding intransitive senses of fail, the transitive uses are now firmly established and occur more often:

'Got through all right, sir?' For all answer I dropped a half-crown into his soft broad palm. 'Well,' says he ... , 'I never knew him keep any of you gentlemen so long. He failed two second mates this morning before your turn came....' —Joseph Conrad, Chance, 1913

An applicant upon failing any prescribed theoretical examination may reapply —Charles A. Zweng, Para­chute Technician, 1944

... students who ... might have failed it altogether if I had graded them in rhetoric —Alfred Whitney Griswold, Essays on Education, 1954

... European schools ... fail a large percentage of their students —James B. Conant, Slums and Sub­urbs, 1961

... it was disclosed that the race horse ... had failed his fertility test —Richard Haitch, N.Y. Times, 10 Oct. 1976

2.  Some commentators, among them Copperud 1964, 1970, 1980 and Flesch 1964, say that the verb fail should be used only when an attempt of some sort is involved. Bernstein 1965, 1971 and Bremner 1980 are somewhat less restrictive, allowing fail to be used when an obligation or expectation is not met. But all disap­prove the use of fail as a sort of general-purpose nega­tive. They are fighting for a lost cause, nonetheless, for the use is established:

One might question the wisdom of a man who made two trips to Spain and failed to visit the Escorial — Times Literary Supp., 19 Feb. 1971

Into that intimate and loose little society of the gar­rison Stella and Robert both gravitated, and having done so could hardly fail to meet —Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day, 1949

... those who failed to see that pain is as necessary morally as it undoubtedly is biologically —Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life, 1923

... neither of the great powers can conceivably fail to fear such a conflict —Noam Chomsky, Columbia Forum, Winter 1969

For a few weeks, he trailed around after his unit, but­toned into an uncomfortable uniform ... but he obviously failed to enjoy it, and soon gave it up — George F. Kennan, New Yorker, 1 May 1971

3. When fail is used with a preposition, the construction often involves to and the infinitive:

Amy ... had criminally failed to latch the streetdoor of the parlour —Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale, 1908

If Glasgow as a city should fail to interest the visitor —L. Dudley Stamp, The Face of Britain, rev. ed., 1944

He had a genius for explosive statements that rarely failed to startle his hearers —Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 1948

... that one-horse teachers' college whose recruiter failed to sway me thirty years ago —Tom Wicker, Change, September 1971

Fail is also used with of, but this use was more frequent up through the 1950s than it has been since:

... all these things Gale turned over and over in his mind, only to fail of any definite conclusion —Zane Grey, Desert Gold, 1913

... voters by the million could not fail of having some effect upon public affairs —Gerald W. John­son, Our English Heritage, 1949

... since no love affair's wild heart lets itself be net­ted in words, this chronicle of a passion may fail of effect —Clifton Fadiman, Holiday, July 1957

A lottery bill, for which King voted, failed of passage —Current Biography, May 1964

Fail is also sometimes used with in or at:

He had originally intended to become a mathemati­cian, but after failing in calculus, he decided ... to turn to history —Current Biography 1951

Many men are almost as afraid of abandonment, of failing in marriage —Germaine Greer, McCall's, March 1971

He sold the farm to become an architect, at which he failed —Donald Hogan, Harper's, January 1972

... an incoherent tale of a brilliant scapegrace who had deliberately failed at school —Herman Wouk, Marjorie Morn ingstar, 1955

Occasionally, fail is found with as, by, for, from, on, or with:

The one piece in the collection which fails as a short story —Robert Kiely, N. Y. Times Book Rev., 3 June 1973

... speculation about the lives of Ross Lockridge Jr. and Thomas Heggen, two writers failed by success — N.Y. Times Book Rev., 25 Aug. 1974

How could he fail the centuries behind him for what might not live more than a few years? —Sheila Kaye-Smith, The End of the House of Alard, 1923

... this enterprise failed from lack of capital —Dic­tionary of American Biography, 1928

... he falls for the Hollywood fleshpots, drinks too much, fails on his deadlines —Anthony Burgess, Saturday Rev., July 1981

He turns then to Delphine, and with her he does not fail —E. K. Brown, Rhythm in the Novel, 1950

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