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


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: 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

Example Sentences

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
The series is often too cowardly in its criticism of the royal institution. Lauren Puckett-pope, ELLE, 9 Nov. 2022 Although the monster is the biggest physical threat in the film, AJ represents a vile, cowardly rot—the kind Cregger has likely noticed in powerful men in his industry. David Sims, The Atlantic, 4 Nov. 2022 This response was inadequate and even cowardly, which Brown later realized. Mike Freeman, USA TODAY, 26 Oct. 2022 Roland grapples with the notion that there is something cowardly or dishonest about laying all his troubles at the door of Miriam Cornell. Giles Harvey, The New York Review of Books, 19 Oct. 2022 The stage is set for a moral showdown: Will Ghezo cave to cowardly pragmatism or embrace the abolitionist awakening of his Agojie? Julian Lucas, The New Yorker, 16 Sep. 2022 That constant feeling of rupture gave Good Fight its jolt, and made a lot of wannabe-deep recent shows seem intellectually bankrupt, even cowardly, by comparison. Darren Franich,, 8 Sep. 2022 But his slow start and cowardly late-game decision are both huge blemishes on his record. Rob Reischel, Forbes, 6 July 2022 What is the latest on what is clearly a very [00:27:00] cowardly act by the. Laura Johnston, cleveland, 7 June 2022
The former social worker’s reluctance to go toe-to-toe with Lake on a debate stage was widely cast in the press as a cowardly move that could cost her the election. Eric Cortellessa, Time, 15 Nov. 2022 McCarthy’s cowardly quiescence to Trump — rightly blaming him for the events of Jan. 6, then tucking tail and scurrying to Mar-a-Lago to beg forgiveness — has been thoroughly documented. Los Angeles Times, 10 June 2022 And in the scant attention online, the Associated Press took the cowardly route and avoided the entire alleged motive for the crime. Fox News, 23 Sep. 2022 The cowardly fox will run away forever if it is left alone with two chickens. Richard Malena, Popular Mechanics, 29 Aug. 2022 Among the more cowardly acts of the time was the Swedish Academy’s refusal to issue a statement in support of Rushdie. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 28 Aug. 2022 As the cowardly Lion, Burroughs — who also served as the show’s lighting designer — was an audience favorite with his improvisational comedy. Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 Aug. 2022 The cowardly abandonment of responsibility by the British, aided and abetted by the Congress Party that insisted on their quick exit, was the main, if not only, cause for the disaster. From Cnn Opinion, CNN, 13 Aug. 2022 Taken out of arms and lives, in this freaking cowardly way, so young, so innocent, full of life and love. Zoe Christen Jones, CBS News, 26 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cowardly.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 8 Dec. 2022.

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

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