When I started to learn English, I was used to write phantasy instead of fantasy, and I was always corrected.

I recently noticed that phantasy is an English word too.
Do people give to those words a different meaning?


4 Answers 4


The OED notes that  fantasy and phantasy are usually considered separate words in modern use:

In mod. use  fantasy and phantasy, in spite of their identity in sound and in ultimate etymology, tend to be apprehended as separate words, the predominant sense of the former being ‘caprice, whim, fanciful invention’, while that of the latter is ‘imagination, visionary notion’.

One of its citations is:

  • 1926 G. Coster Psycho-Analysis ii. 35 ― The term phantasy is much used in analytical psychology, and the fact that its technical meaning differs subtly from its colloquial one leads to some confusion. A phantasy is a day-dream in which desire, unfulfilled in the world of reality, finds an imaginary fulfilment or satisfaction.

Because these were once used interchangeably but are now used differently, you cannot just do an easy ngram or a simple corpus check of one versus the other and make any concrete inference about the results.

The spelling variants throughout the ages are considerable. The alphas below are the  f- forms and the betas the ph- forms in this OED citation, and the numbers represent century numbers:

  • ɑ. 4-7 fantasi(e, -ye, -azie, -aisie, -aysie, -esi(e, -esy(e, -essy, (5 fantsy, fayntasie, feintasy), 5-6 fantosy, 6-7 fantacie, -y, 4- fantasy.
  • β. 6- 8 phantasie, (6 -esie, 6-7 phant’sie, -’sy), 6- phantasy.

Note that our word  fancy also comes from these, and thus also had both alpha and beta forms:

  • ɑ. 5-6 fansey, 6-8 fansie, -ye, 6-7 fancie, -ye, 6- fancy.
  • β. 6-8 phansy(e, -cie, -cy, 6-9 phansie.

Phantasy is more related to phantasm than to  fancy. OED has longer notes about all this. Here is an excerpt:

The shortened form fancy, which apparently originated in the 15th c., had in the time of Shakspere become more or less differentiated in sense. After the revival of Greek learning, the longer form was often spelt phantasy, and its meaning was influenced by the Gr. etymon.

  • Does OED have recent examples illustrating the difference? May 13, 2017 at 21:14

I have never seen it written phantasy much, except in medical texts. The NOAD seems to confirm this:

phantasy (noun): variant spelling of fantasy (restricted to archaic uses or, in modern use, to the fields of psychology and psychiatry).

  • It's also used by fangirls I know.
    – kitukwfyer
    Jul 7, 2011 at 21:52
  • 2
    @kitukwfyer In what context is the term used? Nov 15, 2012 at 5:50

I agree with F'x about "archaic" uses.

In a literary sense, I'd think of phantasy being used by 19th- and early-20th- century writers, such as George Macdonald, Andrew Lang, Lord Dunsany, and Clark Ashton Smith. Even then, phantasy was considered an out-of-date usage. When contemporary writers use phantasy, they're signalling very strongly that their stories use older times, places, or modes of story-telling.


I think phantasy is used in psychoanalysis to indicate unconscious imaginings or ideas, as opposed to fantasy referring to conscious imaginings or thoughts.

  • Citation needed.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 17, 2012 at 18:31
  • I'd be interested in a citation. "Phantasy" seems to be common in translations of Freud. Oct 31, 2013 at 7:15

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