What are ONE-word synonyms, existing as a LONE verb, for the verb phrase 'fall short of'?

I already know, and so ask NOT, about 'trail' (suggested by OED's thesaurus) or 'fail' or 'miss'.
This search reminds me of the irregular French verb 'faillir'.

(Optional to Read) Only 'fall short of' (or its inflections) may be reworded. Do NOT rephrase or rewrite or limit your advice to the examples below. Please answer in general and in the main.

[Example 1] It will be the more impossible for France to draw the Western Country under her influence, by conciliatory regulations of the trade thro’ the Mississipi; because regulations which would be regarded by her as liberal, and claiming returns of gratitude, would be viewed on the other side as falling short of justice.

[Example 2] A Similar vigor throughout the Union may perhaps produce effects as far exceeding our present hopes[,] as they have heretofore fallen short of our wishes.

  • 1
    Fail, disappoint.
    – user66974
    May 6, 2015 at 22:30
  • 1
    @Josh61: That doesn't seem to work very well. "fall short of" seems to be largely used in the context of failing to reach a certain standard (e.g. "fall short of the glory of God"), whereas "fail" or "disappoint" would seem to suggest that we're talking about disappointing someone. I could see "fail" working, but only if further rephrasing was done, so I'm hesitant to agree with that.
    – Maroon
    May 6, 2015 at 22:52
  • 1
    Also for similar reasons, "trail" doesn't really work. OED gives "to lag behind (someone or something), in a contest, comparison, etc." in the specific general usage, so it's not nearly as general as "fall short of" seems to be for me.
    – Maroon
    May 6, 2015 at 22:58
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    I think we need a more exact context. For example, in His score fell short of the passmark, missed would do, but in His behaviour fell short of her standards it might be better to go with violated. Different contexts allow different choices, but probably the best generic phrasing is the negated antonym did/do not meet [the passmark, her standards]. May 6, 2015 at 23:29
  • Please explain what is wrong with miss. May 7, 2015 at 10:20

5 Answers 5


[Note: I probably should have gone more into differences in specific meanings in context, but I feel like that would be too time-consuming. If necessary, I can add something in later.]

I started thinking of what might replace the verb phrase in some examples that came to mind, with minimal rewording of everything else.

Notice that "fall short of" refers to not reaching some sort of fixed standard. Consequently, the OED suggestion of trail doesn't really work that well, because something trails people or things over a course of time -- for instance company X's stock trails that of company Y, whereas there is sometimes a single-shot element to "fall short of".

Let's look at the examples again and things that could replace "fall short of".

  1. All fall short of the glory of God.
  2. She falls short of passing her matriculation exams.

Something like "cannot reach" (with the appropriate inflection) would work with (1). But it does not for (2), since in that case, the appropriate wording would be something like "she cannot reach the passing mark on her matriculation exams"; we cannot simply replace "falls short of" with "cannot reach" there.

Meanwhile, "fail" could work as a replacement in (2), but we would also have to reword "passing" to "to pass", since the gerund (at least in this sort of construction) requires some sort of word between it and the inflected verb. Your mileage may vary as to whether needing additional rewording is acceptable behaviour or not.

But this doesn't work in the OED example of:

The other Prophets fell so much short of Moses.

The other prophets don't actually "fail" Moses -- something which would suggest that they had some sort of obligation to him that they do not actually meet. Rather, they simply fail to reach the standard set by Moses. Again, without a lot more rewording beyond simply changing "fall short of" to something else (via expanding on "Moses"), there again, like in (2) doesn't seem to be an obvious one-word replacement here.

As alluded to by FumbleFingers, this seems to suggest that the correct synonym is context-dependent, because of how widely "fall short of" can be used. This isn't just because of the grammatical variation in what might follow "fall short of", but also is an issue of what sort of thing one is actually "falling short of".

In terms of meaning, "fail" seems to work, except we can't simply replace "fall short of" with it and expect everything to be fine, even once superficial issues of grammaticality are dealt with (because meanings can change as a result of this).

  • Thanks. I updated with some examples in my OP. Do they help? Very sorry about any confusion.
    – user50720
    May 7, 2015 at 12:54
  • @LawArea51Proposal-Commit: they do indeed. (Your comment about what you're looking for also confirms, I guess, my suggestion that there's no general solution, because of the wide range of scenarios where we could use this -- in example (2), it's impossible to simply replace "fall short of" with a single word without abandoning grammaticality, because of the "passing".)
    – Maroon
    May 7, 2015 at 13:00

In literal situations (physically failing to reach a mark), I think you could use


As others have pointed out, the metaphoric usages of "fall short of" are quite varied, and there probably is not a one-word synonym that would fit all such cases.


I think it depends on whether you are trying to emphasize this shortfall in a positive tone (they almost got there, but not quite) or a negative tone (they did not succeed and have therefore failed).

If you are emphasizing the positive, one could use the verbs approach, approximate, or near, as in:

In his career, Ritchie Valens approached legendary status but his life was cut tragically short before he could reach it.


Jane's tests scores neared perfection last semester.

These words emphasize the "almost-there" nature of falling short, implying that one might almost consider them as having achieved whatever goal was unattained. If you were allowing two words, the verb phrases verge on and border on also apply here.

If instead you want to emphasize the negative, one could use fail, miss, or lose, as in:

In her final solo Olympic race, Dara Torres lost the gold medal to a swimmer from Germany.


With the sample usages you have provided, I believe the verb unfulfill seems appropriate:

... would be viewed on the other side as unfulfilling justice.
... as they have heretofore unfulfilled our wishes.

: to fail to fulfill (as an obligation) : neglect
Merriam-Webster online



Means has not achieved. This suggests an attempt which failed to bring in successful results. This sounds similar to falls short of, an attempt that was not completely successful.

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