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(1)   Any state or process known through the senses rather than by intuition or reasoning
(2)   A remarkable development

Alternative spellings

  • phaenomenon, phænomenon
  • phoenomenon, phœnomenon
  • phainomenon


From , from < .


  1. An observable fact or occurrence or a kind of observable fact or occurrence.
    • 1900, Andrew Lang, The Making of Religion, ch. 1:
      The Indians, making a hasty inference from a trivial phenomenon, arrived unawares at a probably correct conclusion.
    • 2007, "Ask the Experts: Hurricanes," USA Today, 7 Nov. (retrieved 16 Jan. 2009):
      Hurricanes are a meteorological phenomenon.
  2. Appearance; a perceptible aspect of something that is mutable.
    • 1662, Thomas Salusbury (translator), Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, First Day:
      I verily believe that in the Moon there are no rains, for if Clouds should gather in any part thereof, as they do about the Earth, they would thereupon hide from our sight some of those things, which we with the Telescope behold in the Moon, and in a word, would some way or other change its Phœnomenon.
  3. A fact or event considered very unusual, curious, or astonishing by those who witness it.
    • 1816, Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary—Volume I, ch. 18:
      The phenomenon of a huge blazing fire, upon the opposite bank of the glen, again presented itself to the eye of the watchman. . . . He resolved to examine more nearly the object of his wonder.
  4. A wonderful or very remarkable person or thing.
    • 1839, Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, ch. 23:
      "This, sir," said Mr Vincent Crummles, bringing the maiden forward, "this is the infant phenomenon—Miss Ninetta Crummles."
    • 1888, Rudyard Kipling, "The Phantom Rickshaw":
      But, all the same, you're a phenomenon, and as queer a phenomenon as you are a blackguard.
  5. An experienced object whose constitution reflects the order and conceptual structure imposed upon it by the human mind (especially by the powers of perception and understanding).
    • 1900, S. Tolver Preston, "Comparison of Some Views of Spencer and Kant," Mind, vol. 9, no. 34, p. 234:
      Every "phenomenon" must be, at any rate, partly subjective or dependent on the subject.
    • 1912, Roy Wood Sellars, "Is There a Cognitive Relation?" The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, vol. 9, no. 9, p. 232:
      The Kantian phenomenon is the real as we are compelled to think it.

Usage notes

  • The universal, common, modern spelling of this term is . Of the alternative spellings listed above, , , and are etymologically consistent, retaining the diphthong from its Ancient Greek etymon ; in the case of the first two, it is in the Romanised form of the Latin diphthong, whereas in the latter it is a direct transcription of the original Ancient Greek. The forms spelt with and have no etymological basis. All those alternative spellings are pronounced identically with and are archaic, except for , which sees some technical use in academia and is pronounced with an initial ([faɪ]).
  • By far the most common and universally accepted plural form is the classical ; the Anglicised is also sometimes used. The plural form is frequently misused in the singular. Arising from this misuse, the double plurals and , as well as a form employing the greengrocer’s apostrophe — — are seen in non-standard use; they are erroneous.


event marvel, miracle, oddity, wonder marvel, miracle, phenom, prodigy, wonder

Related terms

  • phenomenalistic
  • phenomenally