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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

That thorny run of episodes set the tone for Noxon’s MO of writing complex, psychologically rich female protagonists. Emma Dibdin, Harper's BAZAAR, "Marti Noxon on the Eerie Timeliness of Dietland: "Unless We Find Our Voice, Nothing's Going to Change"," 19 June 2018 Which also means that Selena is taking questions about the controversy surrounding the show, which is centered around and contains a graphic depiction of its protagonist's suicide. Seventeen, "Selena Gomez Defends "13 Reasons Why" Because Teen Suicide Is Real," 7 June 2017 Image Alisha Rai and Sonali Dev have expanded the genre with love stories that feature Indian and Indian-American protagonists. Alexandra Alter, New York Times, "The Changing Face of Romance Novels," 7 July 2018 The feud could go on indefinitely, if only because the main protagonists are rich enough to take the hits. The Economist, "Cold war in the heatWhy Gulf countries are feuding with Qatar," 21 June 2018 The fairy tale works because the protagonist is on their own., "The Subtle Reason Why Pixar Movies Differ From The Disney Classics Of Yore," 15 June 2018 Le Dolci designed a four-tier, topsy-turvy cake, copying the font and characters from the book, even down to a little fondant copy of the story's protagonist, with a balloon in one hand and his arm outstretched. Candace Braun Davison, House Beautiful, "Property Brother Drew Scott On The Moment He Knew Linda Phan Was The One," 2 May 2018 Zama begins with a scene of the protagonist spying on a group of nude women, who then attempt to chase him away. Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader, "An interview with Lucrecia Martel, Argentina's greatest filmmaker," 16 Apr. 2018 Marley is the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, an initiative to bring more books featuring black female protagonists to black girls. Beatrice Dupuy, Teen Vogue, "Naomi Wadler Told Marley Dias What the Media Gets Wrong About Black Girls," 10 Apr. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about protagonist

Share protagonist

Statistics for protagonist

Last Updated

11 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for protagonist

The first known use of protagonist was in 1671

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for protagonist



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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on protagonist

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


to reject or criticize sharply

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!