lacking courage; contemptibly timid.
characteristic of or befitting a coward; despicably mean, covert, or unprincipled: a cowardly attack on a weak, defenseless man.


like a coward.

Origin of cowardly

1275–1325; Middle English (adv.); see coward, -ly
Related formscow·ard·li·ness, noun

Synonyms for cowardly

Synonym study

1. Cowardly, timid, timorous refer to a lack of courage or self-confidence. Cowardly means weakly or basely fearful in the presence of danger: The cowardly wretch deserted his comrades in battle. Timid means lacking in boldness or self-confidence even when there is no danger present: a timid person who stood in the way of his own advancement. Timorous suggests a timidity based on an exaggeration of dangers or on an imaginary creation of dangers: timorous as a mouse.

Antonyms for cowardly

1. brave. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cowardliness

Historical Examples of cowardliness

  • I tell you, this cowardliness enrages me; I cannot forgive it.

    Doctor Pascal

    Emile Zola

  • Should he shrink from the duties of life, into the cowardliness of death?

    Mary Barton

    Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

  • To my mind, these questions only bespeak our weakness and our cowardliness.

    A Guide to Health

    Mahatma Gandhi

  • The cowardliness of the Edinburgh is more than the abuse of the Quarterly.

  • It is not cowardliness and gluttony that have made me what I am.

    Les Misrables

    Victor Hugo

British Dictionary definitions for cowardliness



of or characteristic of a coward; lacking courage
Derived Formscowardliness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cowardliness



1550s, from coward + -ly (1). The adverb (late 14c.) is much older than the adjective:

Yit had I levir do what I may Than here to dye thus cowerdelye ["Le Morte d'Arthur," c.1450]

An Old English word for "cowardly" was earg, which also meant "slothful." Related: Cowardliness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper