cra·​ven ˈkrā-vən How to pronounce craven (audio)
: lacking the least bit of courage : contemptibly fainthearted
craven mercenaries who would not fight …Thomas Fleming
archaic : defeated, vanquished
craven noun
cravenly adverb
cravenness noun

Did you know?

Craven and its synonyms dastardly and pusillanimous are all basically fancy words for "cowardly." Don't be afraid to use them—here's a little information to help you recognize the subtle distinctions in their connotations. Craven suggests extreme defeatism and complete lack of resistance. One might speak of "craven yes-men." Dastardly often implies behavior that is both cowardly and treacherous or skulking or outrageous, as in this example: "a dastardly attack on unarmed civilians." Pusillanimous suggests a contemptible lack of courage, as in "After the attack, one editorialist characterized the witnesses as 'the pusillanimous bystanders.'"

Choose the Right Synonym for craven

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 craven in a Sentence

a craven refusal to deliver the unwelcome news personally
Recent Examples on the Web And in a town where craven grasps for power are part of the daily routine, Eva and her musical are right at home. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 18 Sep. 2023 The disintegration of the Pac-12 has been an entirely avoidable tragedy brought on by the craven machinations of people who, it can only be assumed, do not love college sports very much at all. Bill Oram, oregonlive, 1 Sep. 2023 There isn’t an inch on this planet that some craven rich person won’t figure out how to strip mine. Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times, 4 Aug. 2023 The idea that Harding might have been assassinated wasn’t confined to craven opportunists or the crackpot fringe. Greg Daugherty, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Aug. 2023 Women who courageously tell their stories of rape and violence in a courtroom, for example, only to be characterized by craven defense attorneys as being complicit in their own assault. Erika D. Smith, Los Angeles Times, 19 June 2023 More craven interpretations of aging laws are widely used to ignore them. WIRED, 12 June 2023 And some viewers will surely be turned off by the network’s craven disregard for the truth. David Zurawik, CNN, 2 Mar. 2023 What the Dominion filing shows is something more basic: Fox News is a fraud and the people who work for it are, to varying degrees, craven cowards. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 18 Feb. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English cravant

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of craven was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near craven

Cite this Entry

“Craven.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
cravenly adverb


2 of 2 noun
: coward

More from Merriam-Webster on craven

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!