What does 功亏一貫 mean in English and its origin?

And what does 貫 mean?

  • 2
    It's 功亏一, not 貫.
    – user58955
    Oct 18, 2014 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


It means giving up when project is almost done, e.g. a marathon runner quits only one step before the finish line. Often used to attribute failure to lack of persistence.


Planed to build a nine-ren-high dirt mountain, but abandoned the project before finishing the last basket of dirt.

功:所做的事情, project.

亏:缺少, short of, lack.

篑:盛土的筐子, basket for carrying dirt.

Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/79081.htm

I believe there is an English translation just as picturesque, but I can't come up with it at this moment.


First, it's composed as 功亏一 where

篑 = container basket in construction


功亏一篑 = Lack of a basketful to build the mount. / Lack of the final straw to break the camel's back (:


“功亏一篑” in my country means you have done anything but you can't make it.

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