Is there a word for not being brave enough or being too brave? What I'm looking for is a word that combines the meanings of cowardice and foolhardiness, that can be used to describe a person that has a wrong amount of courage; either too much or too little. Example: "He didn't win the dragon because he was too _____". Is there a word that matches my description? If not, why? Thanks in advance.

  • A word that combines opposite meanings? How does that work? – Michael Rybkin Mar 31 '18 at 15:51
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    I think it may be constructive to establish whether any word in English can describe two opposite things, which should be an easier task. If that fails, then the OP's task is impossible. If not, then we can proceed. – Zebrafish Mar 31 '18 at 16:16
  • @Zebrafish like: no = no and yes? – lbf Mar 31 '18 at 16:20
  • Well bittersweet seems to mean opposites, but I have a feeling that's the only word. If a hyphenated word could be considered a single word then there are many options. – Zebrafish Mar 31 '18 at 16:28
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    (re the latest comment) No; you're breaking a Gricean maxim by confusing two different senses of a word. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 '18 at 19:37

Someone having an inappropriate amount of courage (or any such relevant quality) while dealing with a situation is naive (likely due to inexperience).

He didn't win the dragon because he was too naive.



(also naïve)


1 (of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement.

‘He has been particularly criticized for lack of military experience and naive views of warfare.’

  • Thank you! I think this is as close as we can get! Will mark this as the solution. – intoo Apr 1 '18 at 8:30

I really can't think of a single English word that means both "too brave" and "not brave enough", or "having bravery to the wrong degree", which I think is what you're after.

The closest words either imply a lack of decisiveness - indecisive, irresolute, etc.; fear or cowardice - trepidatious, cautious, nervous, wary, etc; or recklessness - reckless, foolhardy, incautious, etc.

I think you have to decide if he is too brave or not brave enough, and why: is he cowardly, indecisive, or simply cautious? Or is he reckless, foolhardy, deluded or naive? Being forced to choose one of these words improves the description of the character and the situation, so I don't think this is a bad thing.

  • You're on the right tracks! I think the closest hits are indecisive and wary. The problem is that I can't decide either cowardice or foolhardiness because I need a word that incorporates the meanings of both of them. I'm not using it to describe a person but to use in a list of feelings (or personality traits) one should not have. I also need the opposites of each of the words, that one should have, so having cowardice and foolhardiness separately would be painful, as I'd have to have different antonyms for each of them. Thanks for the help! – intoo Mar 31 '18 at 17:47

Reckless: Someone how might be brave (from one perspective) but also naive (from another perspective).

You may also consider the word underestimate, but may require changing the sentence to fit.


Hm... Since you're talking about dragons, you're in the realm of fantasy and possibly world-building. Make up a word! And define it, explicitly or through repeated use in different contexts. I'm thinking of the word "tharn" in the book Watership Down, which describes a particular emotional state in the Lapine language used by rabbits.

  • This is neither an answer of the type ELU requires nor connected with standard usage. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 '18 at 19:38
  • Yes, you're right that I am worlbuilding! This is actually a really great idea and I might actually do this! – intoo Apr 1 '18 at 8:27

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