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

Prosecutors say for at least a decade beginning in 2006, Sebesta had money sent to bank accounts in his name, the names of his family members and several phony companies. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Former LA church chairman charged with $11.4M theft," 26 Aug. 2019 He is accused of using phony documents to establish a false identity for him and his son. David Owens,, "Canadian man suspected of kidnapping son in 1987 and living under assumed name in Vernon pleads guilty to federal charge, faces extradition to Canada," 22 Aug. 2019 This might be accomplished by sending a phony-but-convincing-looking email, for example. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "Online “people finder” sites are a blessing for identity thieves," 20 Aug. 2019 The former employee then retaliated by bringing phony documents to the U.S. attorney's office and told prosecutors the Chrisleys had committed financial crimes, Chrisley wrote. CBS News, "Reality TV stars Todd and Julie Chrisley plead not guilty to tax evasion charges," 14 Aug. 2019 The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback then flung open both doors, revealing dozens of phony bank money bags and a huge smile. Jeff Bailey, The Denver Post, "Nuggets enter 2019-20 season with best young core in NBA, according to The Ringer," 25 July 2019 Some genuine relationships do start out that way, but problems arise if the victim is convinced to send money to this phony friend or boyfriend or girlfriend., "Senior scams on the rise as new cons emerge: Here’s how to protect yourself," 30 June 2019 Western European nations such as France and Germany, with strong cultures of independent journalism and governments actively fighting disinformation, resisted phony news stories well. Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, "EU: Russians interfered in our elections, too," 14 June 2019 Google Maps only removed the phony listing this week, thanks to Plachta’s reporting. Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times, "Newsletter: A YouTube star’s fans listed his mansion as a homeless shelter. Then the needy showed up.," 2 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Investigators suspect the intent was to sell the phony rings as a collection., "Jones on All-WNBA first team team," 12 Sep. 2019 According to Roberts, Ross’s rationale—that the Justice Department needed citizenship data from the Census Bureau to better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965—was phony. Cristian Farias, The New Yorker, "The Battle Over the Census Citizenship Question Is Now About Civil Rights," 8 July 2019 According to our friend Holden, a phony is a sell-out (one can imagine that Kurt Cobain was a fan of the book). Tatum Dooley, Teen Vogue, "Skincare Line SK-II Announces AI Spokesperson Named YUMI," 27 June 2019 The movie was inspired by a real person but nearly everything that happens here plays as phony. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Dolph Lundgren in ‘The Tracker,’ Martin Freeman in ‘Ode to Joy’ and more VOD reviews," 8 Aug. 2019 The extension will produce a phony, four-way conference call comprised of three imposter colleagues and your show/movie of choice. Clarkisha Kent,, "There's a new way to watch Netflix at work without getting caught," 9 July 2019 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

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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Statistics for phony

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for phony

The first known use of phony was in 1889

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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

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