pro·​tag·​o·​nist prō-ˈta-gə-nist How to pronounce protagonist (audio)
: the principal character in a literary work (such as a drama or story)
: the leading actor or principal character in a television show, movie, book, etc.
: an active participant in an event
: a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause : champion

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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.
Recent Examples on the Web Once again, a trial unites some of the series' most memorable minor characters in an indictment of the protagonist's selfish, petty behavior. Judy Berman, TIME, 8 Apr. 2024 Van Messel is producing, with the Bedi Duo’s Spirited Heroine Productions, specialized in making films about feisty female protagonists. Annika Pham, Variety, 7 Apr. 2024 This came from the protagonist’s baby, of course—from his first smiles, his crawling, his discovery of first foods amongst scarcity—but also from all the other loves in the book, for family and friends, even for strangers, bonds formed in extremity. Megan Hunter, Vogue, 6 Apr. 2024 In one particularly frenetic sequence, a moment of reckoning for Rudy, Mancuso and DP Shane Hurlbut stage a stunning single take, full of costume and set changes that bring to life our protagonist’s’ attempt to have it all. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Apr. 2024 Godzilla serves as a reminder for the protagonist, Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), of his own wartime guilt. Esther Zuckerman, New York Times, 1 Apr. 2024 Naipaul’s novel takes in Mohun Biswas’s life episode by episode, telling it from inside his protagonist’s comprehension, as a story of tremulous ambition and anxiety. James Wood, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2024 The protagonist, Jess Bhamra, dreams of a professional soccer career, despite facing resistance from her traditional Indian parents and societal gender norms that discourage women from playing soccer. Assile Toufaily, Forbes, 29 Mar. 2024 Like Rear Window, Wait Until Dark provides nail-biting tension without leaving the comfort of the protagonist’s on-screen home. Wesley Stenzel,, 27 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'protagonist.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1671, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of protagonist was in 1671

Dictionary Entries Near protagonist

Cite this Entry

“Protagonist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


pro·​tag·​o·​nist prō-ˈtag-ə-nəst How to pronounce protagonist (audio)
: the chief character in a play, novel, or story

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