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 Airbnb is taking action after an investigation uncovered an intricate scam that allowed a person to put up phony listings and fake reviews on its site. Faith Karimi, CNN, "5 things to know for November 7: Mexico massacre, Airbnb, impeachment, HIV," 7 Nov. 2019 In fact, the undercover agents had phony bombs incapable of causing damage, authorities said. CBS News, "Alleged white supremacist arrested in thwarted synagogue attack in Colorado, FBI says," 4 Nov. 2019 Lydia Cabrera, 36, took about $370,000 over a two-year period by authorizing phony refunds through her employer’s payment-processing company, according to prosecutors. Don Stacom,, "Southington woman could get 30 years in prison for embezzlement," 24 Oct. 2019 Browning said one scheme uses phony job postings in Russian language newspapers distributed in the United States. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Hackers hover near online shopping carts, too. It's called e-skimming," 23 Oct. 2019 The public option is the phony diet option of Medicare for All, promising to have none of the calories and all of the taste. Libby Watson, The New Republic, "The Public Option Bait and Switch," 17 Oct. 2019 An article in The Gradient, a machine-learning magazine published out of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, compared BERT to Clever Hans, the horse with the phony powers of arithmetic. Quanta Magazine, "Machines Beat Humans on a Reading Test. But Do They Understand?," 17 Oct. 2019 Such a phony hurricane report by lightweight reporter @jonathancarl of @ABCWorldNews. Anchorage Daily News, "‘This isn’t just a stupid story, it’s a big story’: An oral history of Sharpiegate," 14 Sep. 2019 The phony narrative comes from ownership and goes back to the days when the late Myra Kraft served as a franchise moral compass., "Have the Patriots not learned anything by now? - The Boston Globe," 14 Sep. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Speaking of phonies, the BBC reports that Hong Kong is creating decoy protesters: Hong Kong police have admitted deploying officers disguised as anti-government protesters during mass unrest that rocked the city on Sunday. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Amazon’s Twitter ambassadors are blurring the line between fact and fiction," 16 Aug. 2019 Calling him a liar, a phony and a failure who did not have the interests of the American people, the candidates collectively took a different approach than the Wednesday debate participants. Anchorage Daily News, "Rivals attack Biden, with Harris leading way on race issues," 28 June 2019 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 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

11 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for phony

The first known use of phony was in 1889

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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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