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
(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 How to pronounce phonily (audio) \ adverb
phoniness \ ˈfō-​nē-​nəs How to pronounce phoniness (audio) \ 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

But consumer watchdogs maintain that these are basically phony relationships where the tribe isn't really running the operations. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Westland woman had 350% interest rate on $1,200 loan — and a loophole allows it," 12 July 2019 Pughes said one of the officers under investigation was Matthew Rushing, who was already on administrative leave for allegedly writing phony traffic tickets to parked cars. Cassandra Jaramillo, Dallas News, "Dallas police now say no officers were put on administrative leave for social media investigation," 11 July 2019 But there’s a type of misleading reporting that many are finding hard to avoid: the creation of phony health scares, usually mixed up with manners and morals. Faye Flam, Twin Cities, "Faye Flam: Some things are scary. ‘Horns’ from smartphone use aren’t.," 6 July 2019 Once Muraena has the victim on a phony site that looks like a real login page, users will be asked to enter their login credentials, and 2FA code, as usual. Alyssa Newcomb, Fortune, "Hackers Can Now Bypass Two-Factor Authentication With a New Kind of Phishing Scam," 4 June 2019 Stop making up phony absolutes and judge people as individuals. Bruce Jenkins,, "The Giants are fun again, and that’s half the battle," 5 July 2019 Although many rightfully consider influencers to be phony, they’re deemed more authentic and relatable than the traditional advertising model. Tatum Dooley, Teen Vogue, "Skincare Line SK-II Announces AI Spokesperson Named YUMI," 27 June 2019 Its past problems include a federal investigation into a phony jobs program run by a WorkSource contractor and two scathing reviews of the agency. Christopher Quinn, ajc, "Atlanta’s troubled jobs agency seeks changes," 25 June 2019 Consider the phony memo circulated about the Broadcom-CA Technologies acquisition; it was plainly timed for a moment when investors would be most attentive. Matthew F. Ferraro For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Disinformation is harming businesses. Here are 6 ways to fight it," 10 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Her phony stunt served no purpose but to feed her political ambitions. David Hernandez, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Fired Chula Vista senior council aide files claim against the city," 28 June 2019 Putting up a false front to impress someone could likely come off as phony, which could ultimately have a negative impact. Tribune Content Agency,, "Horoscope for June 27, 2019: Capriocorn, let someone else grab the reins; Libra, stay in the neutral zone," 27 June 2019 The latter group includes professional politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, condescending academics, corporate phonies, and propagandistic journalists. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?," 13 June 2019 The latter group includes professional politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, condescending academics, corporate phonies and propagandistic journalists. Victor Davis Hanson, The Mercury News, "Hanson: Why are Western middle classes revolting against the elites?," 13 June 2019 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," 2 Oct. 2018 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

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

22 Jul 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

Comments on phony

What made you want to look up phony? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to complain fretfully

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