The teacher asks a student, "How are you feeling about tomorrow?" The teacher has been preparing the student for tomorrow's exam for the whole year.

The student replies, "I'm scared of failing."

The student has a Yorkshire (North English) accent and it isn't, for some people, 100% clear that she says 'failing' but from the context it is much more likely that she says 'failing' and not 'failure'.

It seems to me that if the student had said "failure" it would have represented something more global, while "failing" refers just to tomorrow's test. Is this impression correct?

Side question: Is this an example of ellipsis? "I'm scared of failing [the test]"

  • 1
    Please edit this to explain what the dictionaries you checked said. Jan 4, 2016 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


Ordinarily, "I'm scared of failure" is like being afraid of heights while "I'm scared of failing" is more like being afraid of falling off the ladder while changing the light bulb. The difference is not absolute.


There is a huge difference between failing and failure. Failing is trying something that you learn doesn't work. Failure is throwing in the towel and giving up. True success comes from failing repeatedly and as quickly as possible, before your cash or your willpower runs out.

  • Failing is the process. Failure is the end product.
    – lbf
    Apr 15, 2018 at 11:43

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