1 of 2


cow·​ard·​ly ˈkau̇(-ə)rd-lē How to pronounce cowardly (audio)
: in a cowardly manner


2 of 2


: being, resembling, or befitting a coward
a cowardly retreat
cowardliness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for cowardly

cowardly, pusillanimous, craven, dastardly mean having or showing a lack of courage.

cowardly implies a weak or ignoble lack of courage.

a cowardly failure to stand up for principle

pusillanimous suggests a contemptible lack of courage.

the pusillanimous fear of a future full of possibility

craven suggests extreme defeatism and complete lack of resistance.

secretly despised her own craven yes-men

dastardly often implies behavior that is both cowardly and treacherous or skulking or outrageous.

a dastardly attack on unarmed civilians

Examples of cowardly in a Sentence

Adjective He insisted on avoiding a cowardly retreat. She made a cowardly decision to go along with the group. a cowardly attack from behind
Recent Examples on the Web
By cowardly backing away from Hamas because of a few votes. Benjamin Weinthal, Fox News, 9 May 2024 That makes the Democrats’ performance all the more shameful and cowardly. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2024
The translator also includes animal tales, in which the wolf is strong but stupid, the hare is cowardly, and the cunning fox easily outsmarts everybody. Maria Lipman, Foreign Affairs, 16 Feb. 2021 That our charming protagonist makes cowardly choices is a boon to Música. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for cowardly 

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

Word History

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined above


1551, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cowardly was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near cowardly

Cite this Entry

“Cowardly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


: lacking courage : disgracefully timid
a cowardly rascal
: characteristic of a coward
a cowardly attack from behind
cowardly adverb
cowardliness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on cowardly

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!