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 cowardly

Contemporary Examples of cowardly

Historical Examples of cowardly

  • I think it cowardly of you to say that I am to be held responsible.

  • Its first war-cry was stifled back by the brutal and cowardly hand of Destiny.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • His cowardly rages made them dread a shot in the back or poison in their coffee.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • Beauty Smith regained his feet and came toward him, sniffling and cowardly.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • He was as cowardly and wicked as Richard was brave and generous.

    Introductory American History

    Henry Eldridge Bourne

British Dictionary definitions for cowardly



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 cowardly

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