pho·​ny | \ ˈfō-nē How to pronounce phony (audio) \
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
(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 upa 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 How to pronounce phonily (audio) \ adverb
phoniness \ ˈfō-​nē-​nəs How to pronounce phoniness (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for phony

Synonyms: Adjective

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Adjective

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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

Adjective a phony watch with a designer logo she always has this phony smile just before she betrays you Noun According to him, politics is full of phonies. I don't think she ever meant to help us. What a phony! Verb the terrorists were able to move around the country using phonied driver's licenses
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Baseball’s idea of creativity is placing an artificial runner on second base in extra innings, so a phony run will score for a bogus result. Bruce Jenkins,, "As baseball plans its return, some suggestions for a much-needed overhaul," 23 June 2020 The phony account uses Rice’s account photo and biography. Evan Macdonald, cleveland, "Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Tamir Rice Foundation concerned by unauthorized events and fundraisers," 16 June 2020 As a means to double down on the scheme, Courtney created phony documents to show the companies they had been awarded contracts with various federal agencies in exchange for their assistance. Clare Hymes, CBS News, "Former DEA spokesman posed as CIA operative in $4.4 million fraud scheme," 11 June 2020 The owner of Minneapolis Cup Foods, a grocery store that Floyd sometimes shopped at, called the police to report that Floyd had used a phony $20 bill. NBC News, "George Floyd: From aspiring rapper to symbol of police violence against black men," 3 June 2020 The woman had looked online for an airline’s phone number and went on to call a phony number. cleveland, "In a twist, woman accidentally calls scammer and loses $2,700: Beachwood Police Blotter," 2 June 2020 Dead, at age 46. Because, allegedly, of a phony $20 bill. Gregg Doyel, The Indianapolis Star, "Indianapolis in troubled times: 'Why are you crying?'," 30 May 2020 NBC News reported in January that three employees had filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC contending that TCA's accounting practices were phony and inflating the funds' asset values. NBC News, "SEC sues Florida investment firm over alleged inflated portfolio value," 11 May 2020 Another caution is that some sophisticated crooks set up phony bank accounts. Annie Lane, oregonlive, "Dear Annie: Tips to avoid fakes on online dating sites," 17 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Putting on airs or a false front will come off as phony, so be yourself to get the best results. oregonlive, "Horoscope for April 17, 2020: Taurus, stay above it all; Scorpio, don’t be a phony," 17 Apr. 2020 This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. Howard Koplowitz |, al, "Trump endorses Tommy Tuberville over Jeff Sessions in Alabama Senate race," 11 Mar. 2020 This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt., "Trump attacks Sessions ahead of primary runoff for US Senate," 4 Mar. 2020 This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. New York Times, "The Coronavirus. The Stock Market. Now Biden’s Comeback Adds to Trump’s Bad Week.," 4 Mar. 2020 Tax identity theft is an on-going crime as con artists steal personal data and then attempt to use your Social Security number to file a phony tax return and collect a tax refund. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "You might have to prove your identity to get Michigan tax refund," 13 Feb. 2020 Federal prosecutors charged a Florida doctor for allegedly taking $26 million from Medicaid, Medicare and other health insurance for phony health procedures. Ivan Pereira, ABC News, "Doctor allegedly took $26 million from insurers with phony medical procedures: Prosecutors," 16 Feb. 2020 Prince divided up his unit’s purchases from L&K and (and from two other phony companies controlled by Cloman and a third co-conspirator) into multiple orders of less than $100,000. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "A group of sham companies sold the US Navy $2.7 million worth of nothing," 26 Jan. 2020 The Global Times, a Chinese newspaper that often takes a hawkish line, published an article in English on Wednesday — before the Pentagon’s briefing on the injuries to two American pilots — that quoted military experts calling the accusations phony. Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, "Lasers and Missiles Heighten U.S.-China Military Tensions," 4 May 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


1889, 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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Time Traveler for phony

Time Traveler

The first known use of phony was in 1889

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Statistics for phony

Last Updated

1 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Phony.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for phony


How to pronounce -phony (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for phony

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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