pro·​tag·​o·​nist | \ prō-ˈta-gə-nist How to pronounce protagonist (audio) \

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 Its super-powered protagonist (Jane Levy) hears the inner turmoil of her friends, her family and even strangers as covers of pop songs. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "Review: 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' sings and dances back into our hearts for Season 2," 6 Jan. 2021 The film’s unnamed protagonist (John David Washington) is barely one step ahead of the plot, which involves unseen time-traveling villains from the future who are trying to destroy our present by zapping people into the past. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The 10 Best Films of 2020," 10 Dec. 2020 But the stars of the show are still Savage, playing both the set's protagonist and antagonist with equal aplomb, and Metro, directing the proceedings with Ridley Scott precision and Tony Scott explosiveness. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 20 Best Rap Albums of 2020: Staff Picks," 10 Dec. 2020 The book is the third in a series of Hall books that tell stories using the same modern-day protagonist, artist Anne McFarland. Jennifer Ianni Writer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "‘The Green Lace Corset’ links past, present to tell stories of women," 18 Oct. 2020 After tracking him down to his bachelor party in the woods and posing as a stripper, protagonist Cassie (Carey Mulligan) finally gets revenge on the man who destroyed her best friend. Anne Cohen,, "The Director Of Promising Young Woman Breaks Down That Devastating Twist," 25 Dec. 2020 Female characters in movies like these often exist in service to a male protagonist’s story — when they aren’t pushed out of the narrative completely. Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times, "In female-led ‘I’m Your Woman,’ Julia Hart flips the ’70s crime genre on its head," 14 Dec. 2020 The show’s protagonist is no exception, with talents that run broad and deep. Angry Staff Officer, Wired, "Hold Everything: Stormtroopers Have Discovered Tactics," 9 Dec. 2020 Nothing sets protagonist Emily apart more than her wardrobe of kooky, literal-minded pieces that contrast with her French colleagues and their bon chic, bon genre mindset. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Lily Collins’s Take on Parisian Chic is Very Different Than Emily’s," 18 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for protagonist

Time Traveler

The first known use of protagonist was in 1671

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Statistics for protagonist

Last Updated

18 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Protagonist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for protagonist


How to pronounce protagonist (audio)

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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