27 Idioms for Failure: The Language of Setbacks


One way to discuss failure in a more colorful and expressive manner is through idioms.

In this article, we’ll explore idioms for failure, shedding light on their meanings and providing examples of how they’re used. Let’s dive in!

Failure is like a closed door, temporarily blocking your path, but it’s also an opportunity to find the key to unlock new doors of success. For more comparisons to describe failure, you can check this link: Similes for failure. And for a variety of metaphors related to failure, you can explore this link: Metaphors for failure.

What is an Idiom for Failure?

Idioms for failure are expressions that convey the idea of not succeeding or experiencing setbacks using imaginative language.


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Created by Dr. Julia Rossi

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What is a simile?

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Identify the simile in the following sentence: “She swims like a fish.”

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What is a metaphor?

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Which of the following is a metaphor?

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What is an idiom?

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What does the idiom “break the ice” mean?

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What is an adjective?

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Choose the adjective in the following sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

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What does the abbreviation “e.g.” stand for?

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What is a verb?

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Identify the verb in the following sentence: “The cat sleeps on the sofa.”

13 / 20

“Out of the frying pan into the fire” is an example of:

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Which of the following is an adjective?

15 / 20

The abbreviation “NASA” stands for:

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Choose the metaphor in the following sentence: “Time is a thief.”

17 / 20

What does the idiom “hit the books” mean?

18 / 20

Which of the following sentences contains a simile?

19 / 20

“LOL” is an abbreviation for:

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Identify the verb in this sentence: “They whispered secrets into the night.”

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These idioms paint a vivid picture of the disappointment and frustration that often accompany failure. Let’s examine each idiom for failure:

IdiomMeaningIn a Sentence
Go Down in FlamesTo fail spectacularly or disastrously.The team’s project went down in flames, leading to disappointment all around.
Sink Like a StoneTo fail quickly and completely, often without any chance of recovery.The poorly planned business venture sank like a stone, leaving the investors with heavy losses.
Hit Rock BottomTo reach the lowest point or experience the worst possible failure.After losing his job and home, he felt like he had hit rock bottom and had nowhere to turn.
Bite the DustTo fail or be defeated, often in a dramatic or abrupt manner.The once-promising athlete had to bite the dust after a series of injuries ended his career prematurely.
Fall Flat on Your FaceTo fail in a humiliating or embarrassing manner.His attempt at stand-up comedy fell flat on its face when the audience didn’t laugh at any of his jokes.
Strike OutTo fail repeatedly or be unsuccessful in achieving a goal.Despite his efforts, he struck out in every attempt to secure a job interview.
Blow ItTo make a critical mistake that leads to failure.She had a chance to win the competition, but she blew it by making a costly error in the final round.
Miss the BoatTo miss an opportunity or chance for success.He missed the boat on investing in the booming tech industry, and now the stocks have skyrocketed.
Drop the BallTo make a mistake or fail to do something correctly, often in a situation where success was expected.The team dropped the ball by failing to meet the project deadline, causing delays.
Come Up Empty-HandedTo have no success or results to show for one’s efforts.Despite searching for hours, they came up empty-handed in their quest to find the lost treasure.
Fall on Deaf EarsTo be ignored or not taken seriously, especially when offering advice or suggestions.His warnings about the impending crisis fell on deaf ears, and the company suffered significant losses.
Dead in the WaterTo be unable to make progress or achieve success, often due to unforeseen obstacles.The project was dead in the water after the main investor pulled out at the last minute.
Meet a Dead EndTo reach a point where there are no more options or possibilities for advancement.Their attempt to negotiate a deal with the competitor met a dead end, and no agreement was reached.
Go Belly UpTo go bankrupt or become financially insolvent.The once-thriving company went belly up due to mismanagement and financial troubles.
Throw in the TowelTo give up or surrender in the face of overwhelming challenges or difficulties.After years of trying, she decided to throw in the towel and pursue a different career path.
Crash and BurnTo experience a spectacular failure or disaster.The ambitious rocket launch ended in a crash and burn, destroying the entire spacecraft.
Fizzle OutTo lose momentum and gradually fail to generate interest or excitement.The once-popular trend started to fizzle out as people lost interest in it.
Close but No CigarTo come very close to success but ultimately fall short.They were close but no cigar when it came to winning the championship; they lost in the final match.
Out of Your DepthTo be in a situation where one lacks the knowledge or skills required to succeed.He realized he was out of his depth when he attempted to solve the complex mathematical problem.
Not Make the CutTo fail to meet the necessary standards or qualifications.Despite her hard work, she did not make the cut for the prestigious university.
Back to the Drawing BoardTo start over or reevaluate a plan or idea after it has failed.The initial design for the new building didn’t work, so it was back to the drawing board for the architects.
Fall Through the CracksTo go unnoticed or unaddressed, often resulting in failure.The important issue of climate change should not fall through the cracks; it requires immediate attention.
Down the DrainTo waste or lose something valuable, often due to poor decisions or actions.All their hard-earned savings went down the drain when they invested in a failed business.
Go Pear-ShapedTo go wrong or become a failure, often unexpectedly.Their vacation plans went pear-shaped when their flight was canceled due to bad weather.
Go KaputTo stop working or functioning, often referring to machinery or equipment.The old computer finally went kaput after years of use, and they had to replace it.
Fall by the WaysideTo fail to continue or succeed, often due to neglect or lack of effort.Many aspiring musicians fall by the wayside because they don’t persevere in their careers.
Meet with DisasterTo experience a catastrophic or tragic failure.The expedition to climb the mountain met with disaster when a snowstorm hit, and they had to turn back.
idioms for failure

Idioms for Failure

1. Go Down in Flames

Meaning: To fail spectacularly or disastrously.

In a Sentence: Despite their high hopes, the team’s project went down in flames, leading to disappointment all around.

2. Sink Like a Stone

Meaning: To fail quickly and completely, often without any chance of recovery.

In a Sentence: The poorly planned business venture sank like a stone, leaving the investors with heavy losses.

3. Hit Rock Bottom

Meaning: To reach the lowest point or experience the worst possible failure.

In a Sentence: After losing his job and home, he felt like he had hit rock bottom and had nowhere to turn.

4. Bite the Dust

Meaning: To fail or be defeated, often in a dramatic or abrupt manner.

In a Sentence: The once-promising athlete had to bite the dust after a series of injuries ended his career prematurely.

5. Fall Flat on Your Face

Meaning: To fail in a humiliating or embarrassing manner.

In a Sentence: His attempt at stand-up comedy fell flat on its face when the audience didn’t laugh at any of his jokes.

6. Strike Out

Meaning: To fail repeatedly or be unsuccessful in achieving a goal.

In a Sentence: Despite his efforts, he struck out in every attempt to secure a job interview.

7. Blow It

Meaning: To make a critical mistake that leads to failure.

In a Sentence: She had a chance to win the competition, but she blew it by making a costly error in the final round.

8. Miss the Boat

Meaning: To miss an opportunity or chance for success.

In a Sentence: He missed the boat on investing in the booming tech industry, and now the stocks have skyrocketed.

9. Drop the Ball

Meaning: To make a mistake or fail to do something correctly, often in a situation where success was expected.

In a Sentence: The team dropped the ball by failing to meet the project deadline, causing delays.

10. Come Up Empty-Handed

Meaning: To have no success or results to show for one’s efforts.

In a Sentence: Despite searching for hours, they came up empty-handed in their quest to find the lost treasure.

11. Fall on Deaf Ears

Meaning: To be ignored or not taken seriously, especially when offering advice or suggestions.

In a Sentence: His warnings about the impending crisis fell on deaf ears, and the company suffered significant losses.

12. Dead in the Water

Meaning: To be unable to make progress or achieve success, often due to unforeseen obstacles.

In a Sentence: The project was dead in the water after the main investor pulled out at the last minute.

13. Meet a Dead End

Meaning: To reach a point where there are no more options or possibilities for advancement.

In a Sentence: Their attempt to negotiate a deal with the competitor met a dead end, and no agreement was reached.

14. Go Belly Up

Meaning: To go bankrupt or become financially insolvent.

In a Sentence: The once-thriving company went belly up due to mismanagement and financial troubles.

15. Throw in the Towel

Meaning: To give up or surrender in the face of overwhelming challenges or difficulties.

In a Sentence: After years of trying, she decided to throw in the towel and pursue a different career path.

16. Crash and Burn

Meaning: To experience a spectacular failure or disaster.

In a Sentence: The ambitious rocket launch ended in a crash and burn, destroying the entire spacecraft.

17. Fizzle Out

Meaning: To lose momentum and gradually fail to generate interest or excitement.

In a Sentence: The once-popular trend started to fizzle out as people lost interest in it.

18. Close but No Cigar

Meaning: To come very close to success but ultimately fall short.

In a Sentence: They were close but no cigar when it came to winning the championship; they lost in the final match.

19. Out of Your Depth

Meaning: To be in a situation where one lacks the knowledge or skills required to succeed.

In a Sentence: He realized he was out of his depth when he attempted to solve the complex mathematical problem.

20. Not Make the Cut

Meaning: To fail to meet the necessary standards or qualifications.

In a Sentence: Despite her hard work, she did not make the cut for the prestigious university.

21. Back to the Drawing Board

Meaning: To start over or reevaluate a plan or idea after it has failed.

In a Sentence: The initial design for the new building didn’t work, so it was back to the drawing board for the architects.

22. Fall Through the Cracks

Meaning: To go unnoticed or unaddressed, often resulting in failure.

In a Sentence: The important issue of climate change should not fall through the cracks; it requires immediate attention.

23. Down the Drain

Meaning: To waste or lose something valuable, often due to poor decisions or actions.

In a Sentence: All their hard-earned savings went down the drain when they invested in a failed business.

24. Go Pear-Shaped

Meaning: To go wrong or become a failure, often unexpectedly.

In a Sentence: Their vacation plans went pear-shaped when their flight was canceled due to bad weather.

25. Go Kaput

Meaning: To stop working or functioning, often referring to machinery or equipment.

In a Sentence: The old computer finally went kaput after years of use, and they had to replace it.

26. Fall by the Wayside

Meaning: To fail to continue or succeed, often due to neglect or lack of effort.

In a Sentence: Many aspiring musicians fall by the wayside because they don’t persevere in their careers.

27. Meet with Disaster

Meaning: To experience a catastrophic or tragic failure.

In a Sentence: The expedition to climb the mountain met with disaster when a snowstorm hit, and they had to turn back.

Quizzes About The Idioms in The Article

Here are 10 quizzes based on the idioms for failure mentioned in the article:

Quiz 1: “Go Down in Flames”

  1. What does the idiom “Go Down in Flames” mean?
    a) To succeed brilliantly
    b) To fail spectacularly or disastrously
    c) To achieve a moderate level of success
  2. Can you use “Go Down in Flames” in a sentence?

Quiz 2: “Hit Rock Bottom”

  1. What does the idiom “Hit Rock Bottom” mean?
    a) To reach the highest point of success
    b) To experience the worst possible failure or low point
    c) To maintain a steady level of success
  2. Can you use “Hit Rock Bottom” in a sentence?

Quiz 3: “Throw in the Towel”

  1. What does the idiom “Throw in the Towel” mean?
    a) To give up or surrender in the face of overwhelming challenges
    b) To enthusiastically pursue a goal
    c) To never give up no matter how difficult the situation
  2. Can you use “Throw in the Towel” in a sentence?

Quiz 4: “Fizzle Out”

  1. What does the idiom “Fizzle Out” mean?
    a) To gain momentum and generate interest
    b) To lose momentum and gradually fail to generate interest or excitement
    c) To achieve immediate and lasting success
  2. Can you use “Fizzle Out” in a sentence?

Quiz 5: “Miss the Boat”

  1. What does the idiom “Miss the Boat” mean?
    a) To seize an opportunity and achieve success
    b) To miss an opportunity or chance for success
    c) To intentionally avoid opportunities
  2. Can you use “Miss the Boat” in a sentence?

Quiz 6: “Dead in the Water”

  1. What does the idiom “Dead in the Water” mean?
    a) To be filled with energy and motivation
    b) To be unable to make progress or achieve success, often due to unforeseen obstacles
    c) To succeed effortlessly
  2. Can you use “Dead in the Water” in a sentence?

Quiz 7: “Crash and Burn”

  1. What does the idiom “Crash and Burn” mean?
    a) To experience a spectacular success
    b) To experience a spectacular failure or disaster
    c) To avoid taking risks
  2. Can you use “Crash and Burn” in a sentence?

Quiz 8: “Close but No Cigar”

  1. What does the idiom “Close but No Cigar” mean?
    a) To achieve success effortlessly
    b) To come very close to success but ultimately fall short
    c) To never come close to success
  2. Can you use “Close but No Cigar” in a sentence?

Quiz 9: “Down the Drain”

  1. What does the idiom “Down the Drain” mean?
    a) To waste or lose something valuable, often due to poor decisions or actions
    b) To save and preserve valuable resources
    c) To invest wisely and see substantial returns
  2. Can you use “Down the Drain” in a sentence?

Quiz 10: “Go Kaput”

  1. What does the idiom “Go Kaput” mean?
    a) To work efficiently and flawlessly
    b) To stop working or functioning, often referring to machinery or equipment
    c) To receive a significant upgrade
  2. Can you use “Go Kaput” in a sentence?

Feel free to test your knowledge of these idioms for failure with these quizzes!

Conclusion

Failure is an inevitable part of life, and these idioms for failure offer colorful ways to express the setbacks and challenges we face. While nobody enjoys experiencing failure, it’s essential to remember that it can also be a valuable teacher, helping us grow, learn, and eventually achieve success.

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