v. fell (fĕl), fall·en (fôlən), fall·ing, falls
1. To drop or come down freely under the influence of gravity: Leaves fell from the tree.
a. To drop oneself to a lower or less erect position: I fell back in my chair. The pilgrims fell to their knees.
b. To lose an upright or erect position suddenly: tripped and fell.
c. To drop wounded or dead, especially in battle.
a. To hang down: The child's hair fell in ringlets.
b. To be cast down: Her eyes fell.
c. To be directed toward or come into contact; rest: My gaze fell upon the letter. The light fell on my book.
a. To come into existence or occur as if by falling: A plague fell on the town. Night fell quickly.
b. To occur at a specified time or place: The holiday falls on a Thursday. The stress falls on the last syllable.
a. To be removed as if by falling: All grief fell from our hearts.
b. To come forth as if by falling; issue: Did any thanks fall from their lips?
6. To assume an expression of consternation or disappointment: His face fell when he heard the report.
a. To undergo conquest or capture, especially as the result of an armed attack: The city fell after a long siege.
b. To experience defeat or ruin: The home team fell to the visitors. After 300 years the dynasty fell.
c. To lose office: The disgraced prime minister fell from power.
a. To move downward to a lower level; be reduced: The tide fell.
b. To slope downward: The land falls gently toward the sea.
a. To become less in amount or degree: The air pressure is falling.
b. To diminish in pitch or volume: My friend's voice fell to a whisper.
c. To decline in financial value: Last year, stocks fell sharply.
a. To give into temptation; suffer a moral lapse.
b. Theology To lose primordial innocence and happiness. Used of humanity as a result of the Fall.
11. To pass into a particular state, condition, or situation: fell silent; fall in love.
12. To come, as by chance: fell among a band of thieves.
a. To be given by assignment or distribution: The greatest task fell to me.
b. To be given by right or inheritance.
14. To be included within the range or scope of something: The specimens fall into three categories.
15. To apply oneself: fell to work immediately.
16. To be born. Used chiefly of lambs.
To cut down (a tree); fell.
1. The act or an instance of falling.
2. A sudden drop from a relatively erect to a less erect position.
a. Something that has fallen: a fall of snow.
b. An amount that has fallen: a fall of two inches of rain.
c. The distance that something falls: The victim suffered a fall of three stories to the ground.
5. falls (used with a sing. or pl. verb) A waterfall.
6. A downward movement or slope.
7. Any of several pendent articles of dress, especially:
a. A veil hung from a woman's hat and down her back.
b. An ornamental cascade of lace or trimming attached to a dress, usually at the collar.
c. A woman's hairpiece with long, free-hanging hair.
a. An overthrow; a collapse: the fall of a government.
b. Armed capture of a place under siege: the fall of Troy.
a. A reduction in value, amount, or degree: a fall in housing prices.
b. A marked, often sudden, decline in status, rank, or importance: his fall from power.
a. A moral lapse.
b. often Fall Theology The loss of humanity's original innocence and happiness resulting from Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
a. The act of holding a wrestling opponent on his or her back so that the shoulders remain in contact with the mat for a designated period, usually one or two seconds, thereby winning the match. Also called pin.
b. Any of various wrestling maneuvers resulting in such an act.
a. A break or rise in the level of a deck.
b. falls The apparatus used to hoist and transfer cargo or lifeboats.
13. The end of a cable, rope, or chain that is pulled by the power source in hoisting.
a. The birth of an animal, especially a lamb.
b. All the animals born at one birth; a litter.
c. A family of woodcock in flight.
15. Botany One of the outer, drooping segments of a flower, especially an iris.
1. Of, having to do with, occurring in, or appropriate to the season of fall: fall fashion; fall harvests.
2. Grown during the season of fall: fall crops.
1. To break down; collapse: The rickety chair fell apart.
2. To suffer a nervous breakdown or become unable to cope: He fell apart after years as a POW.
1. To diminish gradually in size, amount, or intensity: The sound of the car fell away into the distance.
2. To change from an established course or activity: I fell away from my school work and spent more time writing.
3. To drop off or become steeper at a distance.
1. To give ground; retreat.
2. To recede: The waves fell back.
1. To fail to keep up a pace; lag behind.
2. To be financially in arrears.
To fail to meet expectations; lag in performance: fell down on the job.
1. To feel love for; be in love with.
2. To be deceived or swindled by: fell for the con artist's scheme and lost $200,000.
1. To take one's place in a military formation.
2. To sink inward; cave in: The roof of the old barn fell in.
1. To become less; decrease: Stock prices have fallen off. The number of staff meetings fell off after a few months.
2. To lose weight. Used of livestock: Toward the end of the dry season, the cattle fall off rapidly.
3. Nautical To change course to leeward.
fall on (or upon)
1. To attack suddenly and viciously: Snipers and irregulars fell on the hapless patrol.
2. To meet with; encounter: a stockbroker who fell on hard times.
a. To leave a barracks, for example, in order to take one's place in a military formation.
b. To leave a military formation.
2. To quarrel: The siblings fell out over their inheritance.
3. To happen; occur: What fell out while we were gone?
4. To be readily explainable; follow logically or naturally: These facts fall out nicely from the new theory.
To fail; miscarry: Our plans fell through at the last minute.
To begin an activity energetically: "The press fell to with a will" (Russell Baker).
fall back on/upon
1. To rely on: fall back on old friends in time of need.
2. To resort to: I had to fall back on my savings when I was unemployed.
fall between (the) two stools
To fail because of an inability to reconcile or choose between two courses of action.
1. To fail miserably when attempting to achieve a result.
2. To have no effect: The jokes fell flat.
1. Nautical To collide. Used of vessels.
2. To clash: fell foul of the law.
fall from grace
To experience a major reduction in status or prestige.
fall into line
To adhere to established rules or predetermined courses of action.
fall in with
1. To agree with or be in harmony with: Their views fall in with ours.
2. To associate or begin to associate with: fell in with the wrong crowd.
fall on deaf ears
To go unheeded; be ignored completely: "Moscow's own familiar charges ... will also fall on deaf ears" (Foreign Affairs).
fall over backward/backwards
To overexert oneself to do or accomplish something: We fell over backward to complete the project on time.
fall over (oneself)
To display inordinate, typically effusive, enthusiasm: fell over themselves to impress the general's wife.
fall prey to
To be put into such a vulnerable position as to be at risk of harm, destruction, or invasion: a person who fell prey to swindlers; did not want the country to fall prey to terrorists.
1. To fail to attain a specified amount, level, or degree: an athlete whose skill fell far short of expectations.
2. To prove inadequate: Food supplies fell short.
fall through the cracks
To pass unnoticed, neglected, or unchecked: "In the past, many learning disabled children fell through the cracks" (Judith Harkness Richardson).
fall to pieces
1. To break apart; disintegrate or collapse.
2. To become distraught or lose one's ability to cope.
[Middle English fallen, from Old English feallan.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.