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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

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
The football gods rewarded that cowardly decision by helping the Packers block that attempt. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, 26 Jan. 2024 Florida’s very compliant (or very cowardly) state Legislature has provided Air DeSantis another $12 million to waste on cross country immigrant dumps. Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel, 12 Jan. 2024 Bennett will play Spamalot's cowardly Sir Robin among an ensemble cast that includes Alex Brightman as Sir Lancelot, Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, and Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert. Tommy McArdle, Peoplemag, 3 Jan. 2024 But that’s cowardly leadership, says Richard Edelman, CEO of his namesake PR firm. Peter Vanham, Fortune, 29 Nov. 2023 What’s particularly shocking is the unprecedented outbreak of it in the United States and the cowardly, see-no-evil reaction of so many of our academic and civic institutions. Steve Forbes, Forbes, 28 Nov. 2023 The actor remembers seeing the musical during its initial Broadway run in the 2000s, when Clay Aiken at one point took on the role Urie now plays as King Arthur's cowardly knight Sir Robin. Tommy McArdle, Peoplemag, 16 Nov. 2023 In response, several veterans of the AMC zombie-apocalypse drama have taken to social media to help raise funds for Jensen, who played Dr. Steven Edwards, the smart, well-meaning but ultimately cowardly doctor at a hospital where several of the show’s main characters were imprisoned. Jonah Valdez, Los Angeles Times, 26 Oct. 2023 The Lions have few holes, and are anything but cowardly. Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 Nov. 2023
Some have alleged the police officers were cowardly. Dean Minnich, Baltimore Sun, 3 Feb. 2024 Those who orchestrated this cowardly attack must be held accountable. Lillian Boyd, The Arizona Republic, 29 Jan. 2024 Nobody should go through this, and these cowardly actions should be punished. Joey Nolfi,, 11 July 2023 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called this shoot a cowardly act. ABC News, 27 Aug. 2023 Derby Dinner Playhouse presents one of MGM’s grandest and most beloved musicals featuring Dorothy, Toto, the Wicked Witch, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the cowardly Lion. The Courier-Journal, 3 July 2022 One of the main issues is the cowardly stance of the NHL. Mike Freeman, USA TODAY, 12 Apr. 2023 Never mind that Kendall is decades younger and in vastly better physical condition; if the unstoppable, invulnerable Logan Roy can die without warning, couldn’t the same happen to his cowardly, self-destructive son? Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 1 May 2023 Followed by a cowardly exit. Lester Fabian Brathwaite,, 9 Oct. 2022 See More

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 28 Feb. 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
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