The Meaning of Phew: What It Is and How To Use It

What does the word phew mean? This guide will give you all of the knowledge you need on the word phew, including its definition, usage, sentence examples, and more!

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What does the word phew mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and other dictionary apps, the word phew is an onomatopoeic interjection that is pronounced “fju”. The word phew can either be used to express relief of disgust. When used to mean relief, it is often interpreted as being a sigh of relief. When used to express disgust, it is similar to the abbreviation PU or phooey. When used to describe disgust, it is often directed toward an unpleasant odor or smell. 

According to Grammarphobia, “PU” is actually not an acronym at all, but has the same origin as the word phew. This is simply another phonetic rendering of the onomatopoeia sound someone makes when they smell something bad. The word has been spelled a plethora of different ways since its inception in 1604, including pue, peuh, peugh, pyoo, and pew. Although the word is technically pronounced “pyoo,” sometimes people extend it into two syllables and pronounce it as “pee-yoo.”

According to Etymonline, the etymology of the word phew dates back to the 1600s, along with the other aforementioned variants. Different countries express a sigh of relief or a disgusted exhale differently. According to Word Sense, this is how phew can be translated into numerous different languages:

  • Greek: ουφ‎, φου‎
  • German: puh!, pfui‎
  • Japanese: ふぅ‎ (fū)
  • Hungarian: püh‎
  • Navajo: hwááh‎
  • Ancient Greek: φεῦ‎
  • Italian: uff‎, uffa‎ (heat, tiredness), uh‎ (relief, surprise)
  • Latin: ufa‎
  • French: pfou‎, ouf‎ (relief)
  • Czech: uf‎
  • Mandarin: 喲‎, 哟‎ (yo)
  • Portuguese: ufa‎
  • Russian: уф! (uf), фуф‎, фух‎
  • Swedish: puh‎, fy‎
  • Dutch: oef‎
  • Spanish: fíu‎, menos mal‎
  • Finnish: huh‎, huhhuh‎
  • Polish: uff‎

What is onomatopoeia?

According to Your Dictionary, onomatopoeia is when a word that is used as an interjection or to describe a sound makes the sound that it is referring to. Many writers may use onomatopoeia in poems or other pieces of writing to appeal to a reader’s hearing. Examples of onomatopoeia include the crash or clang of a pan hitting the ground, the meow of a cat, the boom of a stick of dynamite, or the ring of a phone. There are countless examples of onomatopoeia in the world – look out for them the next time you are reading or listening to someone speak! 

What are synonyms for the word phew?

If someone wished to use another word or phrase that meant the same thing as phew, they could use a synonym. Since the word phew has two different definitions, this means that it will have two different sets of synonyms. The first set of synonyms all mean expressions that one can use to express relief. This list of synonyms is from Thesaurus.

  • good gracious
  • gosh
  • golly
  • dear me
  • gracious sakes
  • whew
  • gesundheit
  • uff
  • well
  • gee whiz
  • oh dear
  • goodness gracious

This second set of synonyms is for the definition of phew that someone would use when they are expressing disgust, particularly at something that smells bad. This list of synonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  • revolting
  • surfeiting
  • vulgar
  • nerdy
  • scuzzy
  • distasteful
  • icky
  • repulsive
  • offensive
  • nauseating
  • grody
  • sleazeball
  • repellent
  • creepy
  • awful
  • disgusting
  • odious
  • nasty
  • stinking
  • monstrous
  • macabre
  • horrid
  • outrageous
  • yucky
  • abominable
  • sleazy
  • shocking
  • shameless
  • vile
  • satiating
  • ghastly
  • beastly
  • cloying
  • scandalous
  • foul
  • hateful
  • noisome
  • repugnant
  • obnoxious
  • rotten
  • gross
  • loathsome
  • frightful
  • yecchy
  • hideous
  • objectionable
  • sickening
  • horrific
  • yuck
  • lousy
  • gruesome
  • detestable

How can the word phew be used in a sentence?

The interjection phew can be used in two different ways in different sentences. It can either be used to express a sigh of relief or it can be used to express disgust. In this first example, it will be used to express relief. In this example, Nigel and Giana have just received their first calculus exams of the year back.

Giana: I can’t look. Are you looking?

Nigel: No way. I can’t look either.

Giana: Okay, we look together. One, two, three! Oh, phew.

Nigel: What?

Giana: Ninety-three!

Nigel: Good job.

Giana: How about you? What did you get?

Nigel: Eighty-six. Not as good as I had hoped, but not too shabby.

Giana: Nigel, be proud of yourself! That’s a great grade! Look, we’re both way above the average. That means that our grades are actually even higher. See, the highest grade in the class was a ninety-five, which means that we’ll all be curved up by five points. So I really got a ninety-eight, and you got a ninety-one!

Here, Giana uses the expression phew to express a sigh of relief when she sees that she has not failed her calculus exam. In this next example, the word phew will be used to express disgust at a bad smell. Here, Giana and Nigel are walking back to Nigel’s house from school. 

Giana: Oh, phew, what is that smell?

Nigel: Whatever it is is nasty. We better speed up.

Giana: Uh-oh. I know what it is. That restaurant behind the grocery store is dumping a bunch of old food into the dumpster. Oh, that’s so gross!

Overall, the word phew is an onomatopoeic interjection that is used to express either a sign of relief or a sound of disgust. This word can be used in numerous different circumstances to express these different emotions. An onomatopoeia is a word that takes on the same spelling and sound as a sound something makes.

Sources:

  1. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/phew
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/disgusting?s=t
  3. https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/08/on-the-scent.html#:~:text=A%3A%20No%2C%20%E2%80%9CP.U.%E2%80%9D,when%20they%20smell%20something%20bad.&text=The%20word%20is%20pronounced%20PYOO,for%20emphasis%3A%20pee%2DYOO.
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phew
  5. https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-onomatopoeia-for-kids.html
  6. https://www.etymonline.com/word/phew
  7. https://www.wordsense.eu/phew/