pho·​ny | \ ˈfō-nē \
variants: or less commonly phoney
phonier; phoniest

Definition of phony

 (Entry 1 of 4)

: not genuine or real: such as
a(1) : intended to deceive or mislead
(2) : intended to defraud : counterfeit
b : arousing suspicion : probably dishonest something phony about the story
c : having no basis in fact : fictitious phony publicity stories
d : false, sham a phony name
e : making a false show: such as
(1) : hypocritical
(2) : specious has a phony poetic eleganceNew Republic


variants: or less commonly phoney
plural phonies also phoneys

Definition of phony (Entry 2 of 4)

: one that is phony


phonied; phonying

Definition of phony (Entry 3 of 4)

transitive verb

: counterfeit, fake often used with up a paper phonied up on the spur of the moment— William Faulkner
variants: or less commonly -phonia

Definition of -phony (Entry 4 of 4)

1 : sound telephony
2 usually -phonia : speech disorder of a (specified) type dysphonia

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Other Words from phony


phonily \ ˈfō-​ni-​lē \ adverb
phoniness \ ˈfō-​nē-​nəs \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for phony

Synonyms: Adjective

bogus, counterfeit, fake, false, forged, inauthentic, queer, sham, snide, spurious, unauthentic

Synonyms: Noun

counterfeit, fake, forgery, hoax, humbug, sham

Synonyms: Verb

counterfeit, fake, forge

Antonyms: Adjective

authentic, bona fide, genuine, real, unfaked

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Did You Know?


It's the backstory of phony that deserves our attention. Phony (which dates from the early 1900s) is believed to be an alteration of the British fawney, the word for a gilded brass ring used in a confidence game called the "fawney rig." In this game, the trickster drops a ring (or a purse with some valuables in it) and runs to pick the item up at the same time as the poor sap who notices it on the ground. The trickster asserts that the found treasure should be split between them. The one who's "found" the item, convinced now of its value, chooses instead to give the con artist some money in order to keep the item, which is, of course, phony.

Examples of phony in a Sentence


a phony watch with a designer logo she always has this phony smile just before she betrays you


According to him, politics is full of phonies. I don't think she ever meant to help us. What a phony!


the terrorists were able to move around the country using phonied driver's licenses
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

So we are left with this phony shutdown war in which the extremes of both parties set the agenda to no good result. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "The Phony Shutdown War," 23 Dec. 2018 Nicol has a ridiculously evil ex-boyfriend lurking around, but the movie isn’t about forcing a phony confrontation between him and Mark. Jesse Hassenger, The Verge, "Welcome to Marwen is Robert Zemeckis’ most revealing movie — and his worst," 20 Dec. 2018 In 1992, the Trump children created a phony company, All County Building Supply & Maintenance, to pad the cost of their father’s building purchases. Rachel Withers, Vox, "Tenants today are reportedly still paying for a Trump family tax scheme from the 1990s," 15 Dec. 2018 Through Unsecure Forms of Payment Scammers frequently demand money in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers to a phony account routing number. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Scary Utility Scams Are Spreading Across the Country," 16 Nov. 2018 President Trump has piled on with sanctions to get the return of an American pastor held in Turkey on phony charges. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Culling the Emerging-Market Herd," 13 Sep. 2018 Some attendees questioned his investment in Wells Fargo & Co., which has been reeling from a phony-account scandal. Noah Buhayar,, "Buffett Skirts Controversy as Politics Intrude on His Omaha Bash," 6 May 2018 Unlike ex-Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who was forced out and made to return a fraction of his multimillion-dollar pay package over his bank’s unauthorized, phony accounts, Zuckerberg controls Facebook’s voting stock and will likely keep his job. Joseph N. Distefano,, "Facebook stumbles amid campaign data scandal but don't count it out," 21 Mar. 2018 His number of followers hemorrhaged, presumably because Instagram purged many of the phony accounts. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Facebook’s morale problem is getting worse," 6 Dec. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Trump on the campaign trail called the unemployment rate phony, so these claims are flip-flops. Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post, "Anatomy of a Trump rally: 76 percent of claims are false, misleading or lacking evidence," 10 July 2018 But the slippers reported to have been in the collector's mansion were phonies, and divers found nothing at the... Kristine Phillips, The Seattle Times, "No place like the rightful home: Stolen ruby slippers from ‘Wizard of Oz’ recovered by FBI," 4 Sep. 2018 Bothell investigators found Mylett’s accuser had gone so far as to create phony, backdated email exchanges that contained the address of a Bothell rental home where Mylett temporarily lived. Lewis Kamb, The Seattle Times, "‘I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody’: Bellevue police chief moving ahead after investigation clears him of woman’s rape accusations," 23 Oct. 2018 Leland, meanwhile, fancies himself a kind of Holden Caulfield type, too smart for this life, able to see the phonies in a world of hypocrisy. New York Times, "This Novel Opens With a Suicide and a Suitcase of Cash. Then Things Get Really Interesting.," 21 June 2018 Facebook in December offered a bold solution for its worsening scourge of fake accounts: New facial-recognition technology to spot when a phony profile tries to use someone else's photos. The Washington Post,, "Facebook's crackdown on fake accounts isn't working for everyone," 5 May 2018 Facebook in December offered a bold solution for its worsening scourge of fake accounts: New facial-recognition technology to spot when a phony profile tries to use someone else's photos. The Washington Post,, "Facebook's crackdown on fake accounts isn't working for everyone," 5 May 2018 Meghan Markle is a little phony for that fake British accent coming through. Kathleen Joyce, Fox News, "Meghan Markle appears to adopt British accent in new video," 7 July 2018 Movie-wise, the structure is an obvious digital phony, although the effects artists do a much better job on Sawyer’s amputated leg, which looks convincingly real, and adds a touch of vulnerability to the famously able-bodied Johnson. Gary Thompson,, "The Rock's towering presence fails to elevate 'Skyscraper'," 11 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In fact, legislators and regulators are rolling back regulations designed to protect investors, who in this case are estimated to have lost $100 billion to phony Chinese firms. Gary Thompson,, "'China Hustle': Skippack businessman exposes stock fraud in new documentary," 29 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'phony.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of phony


1893, in the meaning defined above


1902, in the meaning defined above


1940, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phony


perhaps alteration of fawney gilded brass ring used in the fawney rig, a confidence game, from Irish fáinne ring, from Old Irish ánne — more at anus

Noun combining form

Latin -phonia, from Greek -phōnia, from -phōnos sounding — more at -phone

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Statistics for phony

Last Updated

7 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for phony

The first known use of phony was in 1893

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More Definitions for phony



English Language Learners Definition of phony

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: not true, real, or genuine : intended to make someone think something that is not true

of a person : not honest or sincere : saying things that are meant to deceive people



English Language Learners Definition of phony (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who pretends to be someone else or to have feelings or abilities that he or she does not really have : a person who is not sincere

: something that is not real or genuine


variants: also phoney \ ˈfō-​nē \
phonier; phoniest

Kids Definition of phony

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: not real or genuine a phony dollar bill The principal's laugh sounded phony— Andrew Clements, Frindle


variants: also phoney
plural phonies also phoneys

Kids Definition of phony (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a person who is not sincere
2 : something that is not real or genuine

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More from Merriam-Webster on phony

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with phony

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for phony

Spanish Central: Translation of phony

Nglish: Translation of phony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of phony for Arabic Speakers

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