How to Use the French Verb 'Faillir'

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Nous avons failli rater le train. (We very nearly missed the train.). Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Faillir is a very interesting and useful French verb. It is irregular in conjugation and does not have an English equivalent; the simplest translation is "to almost do something."​

Faillir is usually followed by an infinitive and can be translated by "to almost do something," "to all but do something," "to very nearly do something," or "to narrowly miss doing something." Faillir is most commonly used in the past:

  • J'ai failli tomber. - I almost fell.
  • Nous avons failli rater le train. - We very nearly missed the train.
  • Il a failli dire « non » avant d'y réfléchir. - He almost said "no" before thinking about it.

Faillir à

Faillir à is followed by a noun and means "to fail in/at" or "to fail to keep":

  • J'ai failli à ma mission. - I failed in my mission.
  • Il a failli à sa parole. - He failed to keep his word.

Expressions with Faillir

  • faillir à la tradition - to break with tradition
  • ne pas faillir à sa parole - to keep / be true to one's word
  • ne pas faillir à sa réputation - to live up to one's reputation
  • résister jusqu'au bout sans faillir - to resist unflinchingly to the end

Conjugations

Though this verb has conjugations in all the tenses, faillir is used almost exclusively in the past (passé composé, passé simple, and plus-que-parfait), so the past participle failli is the most important form for you to know. To talk about nearly doing something in another tense, manquer de is preferable (though the meaning is subtly different).

Note that il faut is the third person singular present tense of both faillir and the impersonal verb falloir.

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Lawless, Laura K. "How to Use the French Verb 'Faillir'." ThoughtCo, Nov. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-verb-faillir-1368845. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, November 10). How to Use the French Verb 'Faillir'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-verb-faillir-1368845 Lawless, Laura K. "How to Use the French Verb 'Faillir'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-verb-faillir-1368845 (accessed January 20, 2018).