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I recently discovered that cowardly, which looks like an adverb, is actually also an adjective. So far so good. Then what is the difference between cowardly and coward, and is there any preferential usage of either?

2 Answers 2

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The difference is that cowardly is usually an adjective, while coward is almost always a noun. Hence:

That dog is a coward.
That cowardly dog runs at the sound of hooves.

In the rare cases that coward is an adjective, it is always prepositive (directly before the noun):

That coward dog just turned tail.

Not:

That dog is coward. (Coward is not prepositive - before the noun - hence this is wrong)

As to meaning differences (I've been dealing with usage), you would use cowardly if you weren't necessarily name-calling or venting; the term sounds more objective. You could quietly use it, without strong feelings. Coward, on the other hand, always connotes strong feelings. If you use coward as an adjective, I'm more likely to think you are name-calling or venting.

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    Dictionary.com at dictionary.reference.com/browse/coward offers as an example: "a coward cry". This would seem to violate your rule that coward is never to be used before an action.
    – Fraser Orr
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:21
  • +1 @Fraser; I'm inclined to agree with you, though I still think it sounds more natural when used with a person or animal. I don't think it's a rule. I edited the answer.
    – Daniel
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:53
  • In heraldry, "coward" is generally used as an adjective for a critter with its tail between its legs. In this context, "That dog is coward" is perfectly grammatical.
    – JPmiaou
    Oct 7, 2011 at 16:02
  • In modern usage, "coward" in "coward dog" would be a noun adjunct.
    – Ed Staub
    Oct 7, 2011 at 20:03
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The "also" in the first sentence of the question suggests that "cowardly" can be an adverb as well as an adjective. I don't think this is true, or at least I can't think of an example. You can't properly say a guy fought cowardly. You'd say he fought like a coward. I'd actually like to use it, or any simple adverb, to mean "like a coward." (That's why I clicked on this post.) What are the alternatives? "Uncourageously" is too weak. "Pussillanimously" is the best I can come up with, but it would be weird if such a "big" word were the only adverb for such a basic concept.

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    It's the same issue that you face with adjectives like friendly, miserly, and unruly. There is no identical adverbial form in these particular instances, so if you aren't willing to adopt frilly adverbs like friendlily (as some authors are), you either have to recast the sentence or choose a different adverb.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:42
  • Could someone explain why my response was downvoted?
    – Yeltommo
    Sep 25, 2018 at 2:34
  • Hi, Yeltommo. I don't know what led someone to downvote your answer; I thought your position seemed reasonable enough. My guess is that either the downvoter felt that you hadn't provided enough documentation in support of your view or the downvoter disagreed with one of your factual assertions; it is always possible, however, that the downvoter was unhappy that the sky is blue instead of orange, in which case there is nothing you could do to satisfy him or her. Since I liked your original answer enough to comment on it, I will upvote it now; thanks for posting!
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 25, 2018 at 5:34
  • @SvenYargs Thanks. I wouldn't normally care, but "reputation" is actually valuable here. Your reputation suggests you know what's up, so perhaps you could explain why another answer of mine was not only downvoted but deleted. My guess is it had something to do with my post applying more directly to a comment than the original question, though I think it was still relevant to the latter. In any case, I don't understand why someone would (or indeed can) delete without explanation instead of challenging or at least deleting with explanation. english.stackexchange.com/questions/119817
    – Yeltommo
    Sep 25, 2018 at 6:55
  • The deletion likely occurred because someone with unilateral deletion power or several people collectively felt that the answer was a response to a comment rather than a direct answer to the posted question. With a little editing, you can recast your response to minimize that problem. Instead of beginning it with "@JJB," consider starting with a wording along these lines: "In a comment above, JJB says X. However, [or "Although this is generally true" or whatever suits the case] Y [rest of answer goes here]." If you can, tie the rest of your response explicitly to the original question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 25, 2018 at 7:31

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