Faillir + infinitive = I almost did something

Look at these sentences:

J'ai failli le faire, mais je me suis retenu.
I almost did it, but I stopped myself.

Tu as failli y rester.
You almost died [lit. you almost remained there].

Il a failli tomber.
He almost fell.

Ta mère et moi avons failli ne pas nous marier.
Your mother and I almost didn't get married.

Vous avez failli lui dire la vérité.
You almost told him the truth.

Ils ont failli avoir un accident.
They almost had an accident.

In French, to express the idea that you almost did something (but didn't), you will use the verb faillir as follows:

faillir + [infinitif]

Note that the verb faillir is usually used in Passé composé, as it refers to actions that "failed to happen".

ATTENTION: 

Though the verb faillir is etymologically close to the English to fail, it's not used to express failure, but a more neutral non-accomplishment.
Therefore, you wouldn't use it to say I failed to do [something].

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Ta mère et moi avons failli ne pas nous marier.
Your mother and I almost didn't get married.


Il a failli tomber.
He almost fell.


Ils ont failli avoir un accident.
They almost had an accident.


J'ai failli le faire, mais je me suis retenu.
I almost did it, but I stopped myself.


Vous avez failli lui dire la vérité.
You almost told him the truth.


Tu as failli y rester.
You almost died [lit. you almost remained there].


Q&A Forum 2 questions, 5 answers

DeanC1Kwiziq community member

What is the difference between using "faillir" and "il s'en est fallu de peu que"?

For example, "J'ai failli le faire" vs "Il s'en est fallu de peu que je le fasse."

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Dean,

They are very close in meaning , it is the difference between to be close to doing something and to almost do something.

Up to you to judge which one to use...

DianeB1Kwiziq community member

I don't get the 2nd one...what is exact translation?

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Diane,

It is indeed a very interesting impersonal expression -

S'en falloir de peu/d'un cheveu  etc. = to have been close to something by a very  little margin

Take a look at the following examples to clarify its use, often in the perfect tense and is followed by a subjunctive :

Il s'en est fallu d'un cheveu qu'ils gagnent cette élection = They came within a hair of winning this election 

Il s'en est fallu de peu que tu te fasses renverser par la voiture = You came so close to being run over by the car

Hope this helps!

What is the difference between using "faillir" and "il s'en est fallu de peu que"?

For example, "J'ai failli le faire" vs "Il s'en est fallu de peu que je le fasse."

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KarenC1Kwiziq community member

In the test it seems strange to say that "he almost wrote his report"

Is this meant to refer to "who has almost finished writing his report"?  Thank you!
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi K,

I believe this example has now been removed....

KarenC1Kwiziq community member

Dear Cécile,

no, it's still there.

Regards, Karen

In the test it seems strange to say that "he almost wrote his report"

Is this meant to refer to "who has almost finished writing his report"?  Thank you!

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