Fall - fell

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The words fall and fell are connected in several ways.

  • The verb 'to fall' means 'to come down', 'to descend'. It is irregular: see fall (irregular verb) for its forms: the past tense is fell. There is also a regular verb 'to fell', which was formed in Old English as a causative form of 'to fall' - 'to make [something] fall'.
  • The first noun 'a fall' is 'an instance of falling', as for example a trip or stumble; 'a descent', either literal or figurative. (There is a proverb 'Pride goes before a fall', used to suggest that someone who boasts will experience a setback: an English version of hubris.) In the sport of wrestling, a fall is the pinning on his back of an opponent ('to try a fall' is [a challenge to] a wrestling bout). Many derivatives of this simplest meaning exist, amongst them
    • precipitation in weather, as a snowfall or the rainfall statistics;
    • the perceived descent of darkness, as in nightfall;
    • dropping of leaves etc, particularly the annual baring of deciduous trees, hence the Fall, the usual term in American English for what British English usually calls Autumn;
    • a waterfall, as in Niagara Falls;
    • the sinking of a liquid in a gauge, commonly used of mercury in a barometer or thermometer: "the fall in the mercury was spectacularly sudden: there will be a storm";
    • decline or decay, as in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; in Poe's story The Fall of the House of Usher, the collapse is both figurative and, finally, literal;
    • in Christian theology, The Fall, or The Fall of Man, is the name for the Original Sin of the human race, which left us weak, helpless, immoral and subject to temptation - until, as Christians believe, the death of Jesus on the Cross redeemed mankind from its fate.
    • At sea, the fall of a rope is the tail-end of a piece of running rigging which is properly coiled out of the way when the rope is made fast. The falls of a boat are the ropes by which it may swiftly be lowered in an emergency. It was also used archaically for what is now called the 'break' of a deck: a sudden discontinuity in level, as when a forecastle descends some six or so foot to meet the waist of a ship.
Several words are written fell - they are homonyms. There are two verbal uses, several nouns, and an adjective - see Fell (homonyms).