phan·​tasm ˈfan-ˌta-zəm How to pronounce phantasm (audio)
variants or less commonly fantasm
: a product of fantasy: such as
: delusive appearance : illusion
: a figment of the imagination
: a mental representation of a real object
phantasmal adjective
phantasmic adjective

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Phantasm is from Middle English fantasme, a borrowing from Anglo-French fantasme, which itself is a derivative of Latin and Greek words—and ultimately the Greek verb phantazein, meaning "to present to the mind." The Greek verb took shape from phainein, meaning "to show," and this root appears in several English words that have to do with the way things seem or appear rather than the way they really are. Phantasmagoria and diaphanous are examples. Also from this root are words such as fanciful and fantasy, in which the imagination plays an important part.

Examples of phantasm in a Sentence

frightened by the phantasms of his own making believed that she'd seen the phantasm of her father on the anniversary of his death
Recent Examples on the Web Likewise, Poe’s devilish ambiguity, his production of phantasms both real and imagined, undergirds James’s own ventures into the genre. Phillip MacIak, The New Republic, 11 Oct. 2023 Those are all real things, not the phantasms of a junk-food loving fourth-grader’s fever dreams. Emily Heil, Washington Post, 22 Aug. 2023 And sometimes the phantasms of artificial intelligence can prompt, in the prompter, genuine emotion. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 1 Mar. 2023 The phantasm jeers at me in this lecture theatre. Tega Oghenechovwen, Longreads, 10 Aug. 2020 There, like enormous catcher’s mitts, the detectors lie in wait for extremely rare collisions between one of these lumbering phantasms and an ordinary atom. Rachel Courtland, IEEE Spectrum, 1 May 2014 But eventually, the duo turned the phantasm into solid logic. Quanta Magazine, 15 July 2021 Southern lawmakers baselessly claimed Black men were lynched for raping White women -- a phantasm that still haunts Black men -- and asserted laws governing lynchings were best left to the states. Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN, 27 May 2021 The album, produced by pop artisan Greg Kurstin (Adele, Paul McCartney), is a conceptual rumination on these apocalyptic times, from war to salvation with a sprinkle of biblical phantasm. Steven J. Horowitz,, 15 Apr. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'phantasm.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English fantesme, fantosme, fantome, fantom "what has only a seeming reality or value, vanity, illusion, apparition, falsehood," borrowed from Anglo-French fantosme, fantasme, fantesme, fantame (continental Old French fantosme), borrowed from Latin phantasma "ghost, apparition" (Late Latin also, "mental image, figment, illusion"), borrowed from Greek phántasma "apparition, ghost, vision, dream, (in plural) phenomena, portents," derivative, with the noun suffix -mat-, -ma, corresponding to phantázein "to make visible, present to the eye or mind, (middle voice) place before one's mind, picture to oneself, imagine" — more at fantasy entry 1

Note: The Middle English word bifurcated into two phonetically distinct words in early Modern English, phantasm, which has mostly restored the form of the Latin etymon, and phantom entry 1, which more directly continues the Middle English original. According to a hypothesis in the Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, the -o- in the medieval French forms reflects *fantauma, from a presumed Ionian variant *phántagma of Greek phántasma that would have penetrated Gallo-Romance through contact with Greek speakers in Massilia (ancient Marseille). The -s- in fantosme, fantasme, etc., is an etymological restoration, as [s] would have been lost in such clusters in later medieval French.

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of phantasm was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near phantasm

Cite this Entry

“Phantasm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


phan·​tasm ˈfan-ˌtaz-əm How to pronounce phantasm (audio)
: a misleading image or appearance (as a mirage) : illusion
: a product of the imagination : fantasy
phantasmal adjective

Medical Definition


phan·​tasm ˈfan-ˌtaz-əm How to pronounce phantasm (audio)
: a figment of the imagination or disordered mind
: an apparition of a living or dead person
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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