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

Synonyms & Antonyms for phony

Synonyms: Adjective

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Adjective

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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 Fordell Hill, in the front passenger seat, gave Oxley a fake name and other phony information. The Salt Lake Tribune, "A desert shootout spills into Utah, leaving one man dead and a sergeant facing charges," 1 Mar. 2021 Eligibility requires proof, but state and local officials have yet to establish what documents will be needed, or a straightforward way to sort phony documents from real ones. Colleen Shalby, Los Angeles Times, "Real or fake? Forged documents add another headache to COVID-19 vaccine rollout," 26 Feb. 2021 In all the Connecticut cases, White created fraudulent leases with false landlord names in order to establish the phony residence. Edmund H. Mahony,, "California minister sent to jail in massive Obamacare fraud after using phony addresses in Connecticut and other states," 23 Feb. 2021 According to the Associated Press, the total number of phony N95 masks that have been taken into custody tops 10 million. Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, "Federal agents seize more than 10M fake N95 masks," 17 Feb. 2021 At 15, Larry quit school in Salyersville, Ky., and with a phony birth certificate joined the Army. New York Times, "Larry Flynt, Who Built a Porn Empire With Hustler, Dies at 78," 10 Feb. 2021 But somehow, someone stole his ID to file phony jobless claims in Ohio. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "What to do when a 1099 arrives after you're hit by jobless scam," 3 Feb. 2021 That requires understanding how many people are disgusted with our political system, not just because the conservative media machine amplifies phony grievances. Alex Pareene, The New Republic, "This Might Be a Good Time for Democrats in Congress to Stop Trading Stocks," 30 Jan. 2021 The problem is that if your information was used to file phony jobless claims, the state could soon issue you a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, issued in your name. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Fake jobless claims now trigger tax troubles for victims," 28 Jan. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Feeling like a phony is not uncommon and doesn’t signify that something is wrong with you. Hanna Hart, Forbes, "Is ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Just Another Way Of Blaming Women?," 24 Feb. 2021 The resident was suspicious, confirmed the check was a phony and did not deposit the check. Kimberly Fornek,, "Burr Ridge police blotter: Residents burglarized when they let man in house “to check the water”," 2 Nov. 2020 Republicans like Carney, sizing up the trend, say Hegar is a phony. Tom Benning, Dallas News, "‘Chump change’? Cornyn’s, Hegar’s fundraising tallies once would’ve been record-setting, but are now just average," 28 Oct. 2020 Donald Trump is a con, a cheat, a phony, and a liar... Morgan Watkins, The Courier-Journal, "Kentucky Democrats critical, Republicans quiet on Trump tax returns," 28 Sep. 2020 His opponent is a phony, the captive of sinister leftist forces. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "The Malign Fantasy of Donald Trump’s Convention," 28 Aug. 2020 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 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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Last Updated

4 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Phony.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

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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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for phony

Nglish: Translation of phony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of phony for Arabic Speakers

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