Definition of sham in English:



  • 1A thing that is not what it is purported to be.

    ‘our current free health service is a sham’
    • ‘If current trends continue, intellectual property laws will become a total sham.’
    • ‘My sister continued to tell me that that whole notion was a sham, and that they tried to screw everyone else but themselves.’
    • ‘Is the finding on page 1581 in paragraph 29 a finding of sham?’
    • ‘His use of rhetoric to play with the facts was not a trick or sham, but a legitimate part of a historiographical method.’
    • ‘Are we not offering our children enough opportunities to learn the true nature of the boring, disappointing sham we call real life?’
    • ‘I realize you've always been in on our game, that you've been vaguely aware that each crisis call is an elaborately staged sham, and I appreciate you never calling us on it.’
    • ‘Creating some faux persona with catchphrases and hobbyhorses to draw people to your blog is a big mistake, because blogging is a long term gig and rare is the person who can keep up that sort of sham, particularly in writing.’
    • ‘Two years we've shared this house, shared this sham, but we've never lived together, only ever survived.’
    • ‘People have always had fun that you weren't an actress, that this was all some sort of sham.’
    • ‘Are you trying to say, Justin, that these blessed people are using trickery, skullduggery, flimflammery, shams, pretence, to ply their trade?’
    • ‘In fact, he states baldly that ‘Digital certificates provide no actual security; it's a complete sham.’’
    • ‘Thus, the entire industry is one big sham, endlessly killing dinosaurs and wasting coal at an exorbitant rate.’
    • ‘He understands only too well that nature is a sham and can be twisted every which way by the forces of evil.’
    • ‘Although saved from the uncomfortable task of explaining to Ellen the sham she created, Gale found that the consequences in continuing with the farce were just as unpleasant.’
    • ‘Of later years I have not been proud of participating in this sham.’
    • ‘I'm almost grateful, to be honest, that we're not taking part in the biggest sham we've ever seen.’
    • ‘The illusion of continuity - a sham - was to be created by the retention of the name given to the trust and the execution of a trust instrument backdated to March 1, 1996.’
    • ‘But to everyone else, yes, it was a sham, or an intrigue.’
    • ‘It is hardly surprising that King was a spinster considering that she spoke contemptuously of the ‘hollow sham called matrimony’ in a letter to a recently married sister.’
    • ‘If the new security focus is a sham, expect to see more official denial.’
    pretence, fake, act, fiction, simulation, imposture, fraud, feint, lie, counterfeit
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1mass noun Pretence.
      ‘George abhorred sham and affectation’
      • ‘Call them trendsetters, or tacky '70s sham, but the truth is that they were really just trying to make a name for themselves in a rather unforgiving business.’
      • ‘A complete cynic develops insight that cuts through sham and goes directly to the heart of the matter.’
      • ‘Those aspirations may represent genuine goals to be worked toward, or amount to sham and pretence, a shallow disguise of radically different and less admirable state purposes and methods.’
      • ‘Rather we read Mark because he is an expert at exposing sham, pretension, and hypocrisy, and because he was the greatest American humorist of the 19th century.’
      • ‘He had the reputation of being a bully and arrogant but only his intolerance of sham made him feared.’
      • ‘Now, the dictionaries are all at one in suggesting that colourability carries with it a notion of speciousness or sham, falsity, lack of good faith, and that is entirely consistent with the way the authorities have dealt with it.’
      • ‘If sham and pretence disqualified enlisted personnel, vulgarity, low intellect and radical politics would do the same for officers.’
      • ‘This was the opposite: he regarded Strauss's music as ‘bombastic, sham and hollow’, and despised the composer for claiming to be apolitical while cosying up to the Nazi regime.’
      • ‘What is the difference between that submission and the submission about sham?’
      • ‘It is simply fanciful to suppose that the jury might have held the Side Agreements against the appellant as critical evidence to show his knowledge that these annuities were sham.’
      • ‘Elections are sham, the press is censored, the jails hold some political prisoners.’
      • ‘They are, in a word, shams designed to lull users into a false sense of security - a form of sham which we believe you press on us solely as posturing, rather than out of any genuine concern for users.’
      • ‘However, he found that there was no sham and allowed the taxpayers' appeals.’
      • ‘You do not have a finding of sham or anything of that nature.’
      • ‘To put it another way, we would submit, with respect, that the introduction of the term ‘real money’ is a false inquiry, at least where there is no suggestion of sham or fraud.’
      • ‘As a satirist, the writer is unafraid of drawing aside the drapes of hypocrisy and sham that seem to safeguard middle-class ethics.’
      • ‘Unlike so much sham now usurping our stages, Fortune's Fool is a genuine, professionally crafted, and cannily produced play.’
      • ‘Second, Barnes agreed with South Carolina editor Z. T. Cody who ‘called the whole signing up business sham and hypocrisy.’’
      pretence, fake, act, fiction, simulation, imposture, fraud, feint, lie, counterfeit
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A person who pretends to be someone or something they are not.
      ‘he was a sham, totally unqualified for his job as a senior doctor’
      • ‘He is a great, flabby sham, an actor close to suicide, maybe - and this is an extraordinary display of incipient madness or incorrigible playfulness.’
      • ‘Yet Pétain was no such thing; he was a lifelong soldier and a genuine war hero, rather than some preening sham in jackboots.’
      • ‘The team does not feel the average person today is as ignorant toward shams and charlatans as they might have been just ten years ago.’
      charlatan, fake, fraud, impostor, pretender, masquerader, dissembler, wolf in sheep's clothing
      View synonyms
  • 2North American

    short for pillow sham
    • ‘Also available are shams, duvet covers, bed skirts and light quilts so you can create exactly the look you want.’
    • ‘A bed in a bag set includes sheet, pillow cases, a comforter, shams, and skirts for adult beds.’
    • ‘She put new linens, pillows, and shams in the master bedroom, regrouted the master bath, and bought a purple shower curtain and coordinated rug for the kids' bath to draw the eye away from older fixtures.’
    • ‘Fold each sham horizontally and vertically to locate the center.’
    • ‘Three winners will receive a set of 180-thread-count cotton-polyester-blend sheets, a comforter, two shams and a bed skirt; queen size only.’
    • ‘His sheets were a dark blue, tie-dye, and his sham was khaki with pockets.’
    • ‘For, one needs, in addition, the matching comforter, bedskirt, duvet, three types of pillows, shams, draperies, upholstered furniture, tablecloths, fabric lampshades, and rugs.’
    • ‘It has, in fact, taken over Helen's delightful garden home - the front sitting room now a showcase for scores of cushions, imported quilts, shams and fantastic fabrics, mostly from France and Italy.’
    • ‘Of her many endorsed products, one is of special interest: her line of matelassé coverlets and shams - really, just bedcovers.’
    • ‘More tailored bedding styles that downplay decorative pillows and shams are making the once humble sheet more visible than ever.’
    • ‘The famous label can now be found on bedding - including a reversible comforter set that comes with matching bed skirt and shams.’
    • ‘Slipcovers, comforters, sheets, and shams are white as well.’
    • ‘Most sheets, pillow cases, bed skirts and shams are machine washable.’


  • Bogus; false.

    ‘a clergyman who arranged a sham marriage’
    • ‘In effect, there was a fully organised, sophisticated and professional business, run on commercial lines with a sham company, fraudulent invoices, a warehouse and place of business, and even an accountant.’
    • ‘A clear reading of the law shows that these are sham marriages.’
    • ‘Although during his reign only about thirty officers died from duelling, a larger number were discharged from the army by their regiments when they refused to duel, or staged a sham duel, after some alleged insult.’
    • ‘The manager rudely tells him that it was a sham marriage and that his wife wants him to get lost so she can annul it.’
    • ‘This sham compromise still pits prejudice against science and sets misinformed consumers and protectionist farmers in Europe against producers in America.’
    • ‘I am an actress, a mimicker, a sham creature - me… how I do loathe my most impotent and unpoetical craft!’
    • ‘Can two suicidal Turkish Germans living in Hamburg find happiness together, or at least a reason to live, by entering into a sham marriage so she can sleep around?’
    • ‘Then he held a sham budget ‘consultation’ (two one hour public meetings) where he announced that the university did not have enough money to balance its budget and that tuition must go up.’
    • ‘We just don't support unplanned development and a sham consultation process.’
    • ‘The screeches of some of the more outlandish among gloomy modern composers or the illiterate wailings of some vapid rock ‘musician’ are subjected to sham scholarship and pseudo philosophising.’
    • ‘Clearly, a sham intent, a false intent, will give the matter away.’
    • ‘The legislation is not intended to be limited to the sham vehicle, but is intended to spread to the legitimate use of service companies, but with potentially different taxation consequences on an engagement by engagement basis.’
    • ‘This sham photograph - both the incident it dishonestly records and the chain of events it sets in motion - lies at the heart of the novel.’
    • ‘No, she reassured herself, there's nothing in God's law or the emperor's that requires me to perpetuate a sham marriage, an unstoppered vessel from which the perfume has evaporated.’
    • ‘No prizes for guessing the result of this sham exercise.’
    • ‘But it also suggests a capacity to distance himself from the world and its sham enthusiasms, and lends an unconscious edge to his portrayal of it.’
    • ‘The main characters have presumably left their homes in search at least in part of the cosmopolitanism associated with China's large cities, but what they find is a sham cosmopolitanism.’
    • ‘One US company is accused of massively inflating its profits by setting up sham companies to send fake invoices which the coalition paid.’
    • ‘Rather a spectacle for a sham marriage isn't it?’
    • ‘Who'd ever think the world of sham real-estate brokers would be so compelling until ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ came around?’
    fake, pretended, feigned, simulated, false, artificial, bogus, synthetic, spurious, ersatz, insincere, not genuine, manufactured, contrived, affected, plastic, make-believe, fictitious
    View synonyms


[no object]
  • 1Falsely present something as the truth.

    ‘was he ill or was he shamming?’
    • ‘There is an important distinction to be made between those who are genuinely dull and those who are shamming.’
    • ‘If she is shamming, her body shape will give her plenty of time to either really get pregnant or to claim that she has suffered a miscarriage - probably in response to some claimed misdeed of Peter's.’
    • ‘They want the company of those who fib and sham, those who can imagine the future and reinvent the past with only half an eye on the unadorned and feeble truth, but with full command of narrative.’
    • ‘‘‘Do you think,’ I asked indignantly, ‘he is shamming?’’
    • ‘As he'd walked her home the previous night, it had become obvious that he wasn't shamming, that he really was going to treat her like a kid sister.’
    pretend, fake, dissemble
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1with object Pretend to be or to be experiencing.
      ‘she shams indifference’
      no object, with complement ‘the opossum escapes danger by shamming dead’
      • ‘Throughout his plays the acute social critics, the people who are not taken in by accepted fallacies, are buffoons, villains, lunatics or persons who are shamming insanity or in a state of violent hysteria.’
      • ‘It planned for a mock battle, shammed unity, and were confused by the intransigence and solidarity of the other side.’
      • ‘Could Nick be shamming friendliness until he was offered an opportunity to get rid of him?’
      • ‘In his secret note of December 19, 1913, he noted that Savarkar was shamming his ‘change of heart’ and that he did not express the slightest remorse or regret for what he had done.’
      • ‘He portrays him as shamming his injuries.’
      feign, fake, pretend, put on, make a pretence of, simulate, counterfeit, affect, imitate
      pretend, fake, dissemble
      View synonyms


Late 17th century: perhaps a northern English dialect variant of the noun shame.