1 of 3


: a trick that deludes : hoax
feared that the deal was a sham
: cheap falseness : hypocrisy
saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness of the empty pageantOscar Wilde
: an ornamental covering for a pillow
: an imitation or counterfeit purporting to be genuine
: a person who shams


2 of 3


: not genuine : false, feigned
: having such poor quality as to seem false


3 of 3


shammed; shamming

transitive verb

: to go through the external motions necessary to counterfeit

intransitive verb

: to act intentionally so as to give a false impression : feign
shammer noun
Choose the Right Synonym for sham


imposture, fraud, sham, fake, humbug, counterfeit mean a thing made to seem other than it is.

imposture applies to any situation in which a spurious object or performance is passed off as genuine.

their claim of environmental concern is an imposture

fraud usually implies a deliberate perversion of the truth.

the diary was exposed as a fraud

sham applies to fraudulent imitation of a real thing or action.

condemned the election as a sham

fake implies an imitation of or substitution for the genuine but does not necessarily imply dishonesty.

these jewels are fakes; the real ones are in the vault

humbug suggests elaborate pretense usually so flagrant as to be transparent.

creating publicity by foisting humbugs on a gullible public

counterfeit applies especially to the close imitation of something valuable.

20-dollar bills that were counterfeits


assume, affect, pretend, simulate, feign, counterfeit, sham mean to put on a false or deceptive appearance.

assume often implies a justifiable motive rather than an intent to deceive.

assumed an air of cheerfulness around the patients

affect implies making a false show of possessing, using, or feeling.

affected an interest in art

pretend implies an overt and sustained false appearance.

pretended that nothing had happened

simulate suggests a close imitation of the appearance of something.

cosmetics that simulate a suntan

feign implies more artful invention than pretend, less specific mimicry than simulate.

feigned sickness

counterfeit implies achieving the highest degree of verisimilitude of any of these words.

an actor counterfeiting drunkenness

sham implies an obvious falseness that fools only the gullible.

shammed a most unconvincing limp

Examples of sham in a Sentence

Noun He claims that the trial was a sham. Their marriage was a sham. Many people believed he could help them, but I knew he was a sham. She exposed their sham and hypocrisy. Adjective a sofa upholstered in sham leather street vendors selling sham designer handbags to gullible tourists Verb She wasn't really hurt; she was only shamming. He was shamming illness to avoid work. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
The microfiber fabric has a simple design and comes with a duvet cover and two standard pillow shams. Claire Rutter, Rolling Stone, 21 Feb. 2024 The 2014 referendum that Carlson lauds has been largely condemned as a sham. John Hewko, The Mercury News, 20 Feb. 2024 Made from polyester, this set, which includes a coverlet and two shams, is ultra lightweight, buttery soft, and cozy. Sharon Brandwein, Southern Living, 19 Jan. 2024 House Homeland Security Committee Republicans opened Wednesday's impeachment hearing against Mayorkas by rehashing familiar arguments that highlight the historically high levels of unauthorized migration across the southern border while Democrats continued to insist the proceedings are a sham. Alexandra Hutzler, ABC News, 10 Jan. 2024 So the White House presented what appeared to be a system for managing conflicts of interest that now appears to be a sham. James Freeman, WSJ, 10 Jan. 2024 Along with the cover, the set comes with two matching pillow shams of the same material. Isabel Garcia, Peoplemag, 11 Aug. 2023 The shams and decorative pillows also match the theme. Robin Raven, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 On some trips, the filters were operating and on other trips, the filters were convincing shams. Evan Bush, NBC News, 30 Nov. 2023
Court records show that Whitaker ran Loan Starters, a sham business in Texas. Chase Jordan, Charlotte Observer, 22 Feb. 2024 The Nevada Secretary of State's office launched an investigation after receiving numerous complaints about Buckle and his sham businesses. Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 12 Jan. 2024 Since then, Russian officials have transformed the governance of the areas under its control, holding sham elections last September and appointing pro-Moscow officials at every level. David Lewis, Foreign Affairs, 18 Jan. 2024 And these are some of the things that can potentially influence how people perceive the sham treatment. Kevin Purdy, Ars Technica, 26 Sep. 2023 Americans, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, and everyone else in Communist Chinese crosshairs should regard the sham proceeding as a warning of things to come. Nr Editors, National Review, 22 Dec. 2023 After former president Donald Trump falsely claimed fraud following the 2020 election, a sham audit to investigate claims of election fraud was conducted by Cyber Ninjas, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Arizona state Senate. William Turton, WIRED, 20 Dec. 2023 Bare Home Goose Down-Alternative Comforter Set Top off your bed with this cozy down-alternative comforter and matching sham pillowcases. Lauren Taylor, Southern Living, 24 Nov. 2023 Kern also took part in the sham hand-recount of ballots in Maricopa County in 2021. WIRED, 15 Nov. 2023
Critics said the executions were a result of hasty sham trials. Stephanie Halasz, CNN, 5 Feb. 2023 Iran has cracked down by executing protesters, accused of killing security forces, which critics say were the result of hasty sham trials. Artemis Moshtaghian, CNN, 19 Jan. 2023 Critics said that the executions were a result of hasty sham trials. Artemis Moshtaghian, CNN, 11 Jan. 2023 Holding such sham votes is a key objective of Moscow. Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, 23 Sep. 2022 From real-estate empires to sham blood-testing apparatuses, which scheme is which, who got the furthest, who was sued, and who was running the scummiest scam? Vulture, 25 Feb. 2022 Some volunteers got 'sham' tDCS in which the current was turned off. Neuroskeptic, Discover Magazine, 4 Oct. 2016 DiMassa admitted when pleading guilty that he was involved in three related conspiracies — with his wife, Bernardo and Trasacco — to embezzle the federal grant money by creating dummy invoices and directing payments to sham companies. Hartford Courant, 2 Dec. 2022 This group of teachers schooled their students on the art of DIY Halloween costumes with their tourists on a sham-rocket roller coaster creation. Diane J. Cho, Peoplemag, 27 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sham.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



perhaps from English dialect sham shame, alteration of English shame

First Known Use


1677, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1681, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1702, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of sham was in 1677

Dictionary Entries Near sham

Cite this Entry

“Sham.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 3 noun
: a trick that deceives : hoax
: something resembling an article of personal or household linen and used in place of or over it
: an imitation or counterfeit giving the impression of being real


2 of 3 verb
shammed; shamming
: to act in a deceiving way


3 of 3 adjective
: not real : false
sham pearls

Medical Definition


: being a treatment or procedure that is performed as a control and that is similar to but omits a key therapeutic element of the treatment or procedure under investigation
sham surgery, in which doctors make an incision in a patient's knee and manipulate the joint, but don't clean out fluid, debris, and torn cartilageLiz Kowalczyk
a sham injection of saline solution

Legal Definition


1 of 2 noun
: something that is false, deceptive, misleading, or otherwise not genuine


2 of 2 adjective
: not genuine : intended to mislead or deceive : false, illusory
the sale for one dollar was a sham transfer of property

More from Merriam-Webster on sham

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