pro·tag·o·nist | \ prō-ˈta-gə-nist \

Definition of protagonist 

1a(1) : the principal character in a literary work (such as a drama or story)

(2) : the leading actor or principal character in a television show, movie, book, etc.

b : an active participant in an event

2 : a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause : champion

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Did You Know?

Struggle, or conflict, is central to drama. The protagonist or hero of a play, novel, or film is involved in a struggle of some kind, either against someone or something else or even against his or her own emotions. So the hero is the "first struggler", which is the literal meaning of the Greek word prōtagōnistēs. A character who opposes the hero is the antagonist, from a Greek verb that means literally "to struggle against".

Examples of protagonist in a Sentence

Badlands has two protagonists and Days of Heaven four (though both movies are rich in colorful minor roles). —Richard Alleva, Commonweal, 12 Mar. 1999 The protagonists of Gordon's fiction are children who have been saddled with their parents' emotional bad debts. —Judith Thurman, New Yorker, 12 Mar. 1990 The most adamant opposition to my argument is likely to come from protagonists of secular reason … —Glenn Finder, Atlantic, December 1989 She was a leading protagonist in the civil rights movement. Milton Friedman is usually cited as the leading American protagonist of monetarism.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Superheroes are always unaccountably dodging bullets and getting to the bomb in the nick of time; the greatest superpower of all is being the protagonist and having the writers on your side. Noah Berlatsky, The Verge, "The best superhero stories admit that superheroes are ridiculous," 11 July 2018 Never mind that Zamunda, protagonist Prince Akeem's birthplace, is not a real country. Amber Ferguson,, "Before Wakanda, there was Zamunda: Eddie Murphy's 'Coming to America' turns 30," 29 June 2018 What's rare is to have a film with an obvious male protagonist who shares his screen time with women who feel whole unto themselves., "Solo: A Star Wars Story Fails Its Great Woman Characters," 25 May 2018 As befits a work with female in the title, the male protagonists are secondary. Clare Mchugh, Time, "Meg Wolizter Explores Feminism and Friendship in The Female Persuasion," 5 Apr. 2018 Transgender women in particular are frequently depicted as something to be feared by straight male protagonists., "'A Fantastic Woman' and the portrayal of transgender people as complex characters in movies," 6 Mar. 2018 Hopefully, watching the film stack up $200 million in revenues in three days will be enough to debunk old Hollywood’s misconception that viewers are only interested in white male protagonists. Valentina Zarya, Fortune, "Black Panther, Oprah Winfrey, BAFTAs: Broadsheet Feb. 20," 20 Feb. 2018 The Chi focuses largely on four male protagonists connected by the fallout from two shootings. Allison P. Davis, The Cut, "‘We Create the Culture’," 7 Jan. 2018 The book’s bear-hunting protagonist-children face many an obstacle. Aarian Marshall, WIRED, "This Week in the Future of Cars: The Big Dig," 17 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'protagonist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of protagonist

1671, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for protagonist

Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōt- prot- + agōnistēs competitor at games, actor, from agōnizesthai to compete, from agōn contest, competition at games — more at agony

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Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for protagonist

The first known use of protagonist was in 1671

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English Language Learners Definition of protagonist

: the main character in a novel, play, movie, etc.

: an important person who is involved in a competition, conflict, or cause

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What made you want to look up protagonist? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the setting in which something occurs

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