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

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

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Though these types of phony opportunities aren't new, bad actors have become more creative and deceptive over time. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, 11 May 2022 From a phony off-track betting parlor and waitresses doubling as assassins to fake FBI agents and real murder, The Sting is the benchmark of great gambling movies. Keith Nelson, Men's Health, 30 Apr. 2022 Herbert Anderson, whose 2004 case was thrown out Friday, told reporters that Watts and his team planted drugs in his apartment, then pinned a phony case on him. Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune, 22 Apr. 2022 The bank in 2016 was fined nearly $200 million for illegally opening millions of phony deposit and credit card accounts. Kate Gibson, CBS News, 19 Apr. 2022 The French government summoned Russia’s ambassador over a tweet suggesting that images of dead civilians were phony. Adam Schreck,, 7 Apr. 2022 The director denied wrongdoing, and the charges were seen by many as phony and politically motivated. Washington Post, 31 Mar. 2022 That’s why phony calls threatening jail time from the IRS work so well. Kim Komando, USA TODAY, 2 Mar. 2022 Morris-Hughes said the money would go toward more technology to help detect phony claims. Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Two television ads from a super PAC called Pennsylvania Conservative Fund try to portray Oz as a phony who is merely pretending to be a conservative. Daniel Dale, CNN, 8 Apr. 2022 Professor Harold Hill is the ultimate phony — and Hugh Jackman, unfortunately, isn’t playing one. Washington Post, 11 Feb. 2022 But Nez felt like a phony even though the producers placated him by including a couple of his songs on the early albums. Andy Greene, Rolling Stone, 9 Jan. 2022 And there’s a guy with a computerized fake eyeball that’s occasionally given to popping out and rolling around—everything about this phony eyeball is funny. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, 29 Sep. 2021 Carlson is revealed as just another phony—the exact kind of person Carlson the magazine writer would have skewered. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 16 Sep. 2021 And your stage persona is usually making fun of a show-business-phony-type person. Jesse David Fox, Vulture, 16 Sep. 2021 But the screen Larry saw for a bank statement was likely a phony. Dallas News, 21 June 2021 But the screen Larry saw for a bank statement was likely a phony. Dallas News, 21 June 2021 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,, 29 Mar. 2018 See More

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.

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


derivative of phony entry 1


derivative of phony entry 1 or phony entry 2

Noun combining form

borrowed from Greek -phōnia, from -phōnos "having a sound (of the kind or number specified)" (derivative of phōnḗ "sound made by something living, voice, speech, utterance") + -ia -ia entry 1 — more at phono-

Learn More About phony

Listen to Our Podcast About phony

Dictionary Entries Near phony

phonus bolonus



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for phony

Last Updated

15 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Phony.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for phony


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

More from Merriam-Webster on phony

Nglish: Translation of phony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of phony for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Color

  • a light greenish blue color
  • Name that color:
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!