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 Her series riffs on the idea that nature becomes a protagonist when human populations are displaced by war. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, "It’s time we looked at Iran through the same lens as its best photographers," 15 Jan. 2020 The grand epiphany That movie moment where there's an epiphany and the protagonist starts running? Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY, "Tiffany Haddish's ‘Like a Boss’ is basically a rom-com, just minus the romance," 9 Jan. 2020 Men still maintained the bigger cut of the pie with 43 percent of films featuring male protagonists and 63 percent of major characters being male. Nick Romano,, "Hollywood delivers stark rise in female roles in 2019 movies, study finds," 8 Jan. 2020 Meanwhile, 43 percent of 2019 films featured male protagonists and 17 percent had ensemble casts. Katherine Schaffstall, The Hollywood Reporter, "Percentage of Films Featuring Female Protagonists Increased in 2019: Study," 8 Jan. 2020 Shuggie, the novel’s protagonist, has a similar biography to the narrator of this story. Cressida Leyshon, The New Yorker, "Douglas Stuart on Growing Up Queer Before the Internet," 6 Jan. 2020 Apart from the protagonists and recurring characters, there are others who appear for just one episode but leave a mark anyway. Devarsi Ghosh, Quartz India, "From India’s numerous web originals of 2019, these 10 characters stand out," 26 Dec. 2019 The series centers on three protagonists: Zélie, a maji, and the king’s children, Inan and Amari. Dennis Tang, Teen Vogue, "Tomi Adeyemi Opens Up About "Children of Virtue and Vengeance"," 28 Dec. 2019 This quiet, thoughtful book (with soft illustrations that mirror the protagonist’s feelings) can be read both as a regular bedtime story but can also be pulled out for those times when your little girls need a boost of courage. Gideon Grudo, NBC News, "The most purchased books we covered this holiday season," 27 Dec. 2019

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 2020

Cite this Entry

“Protagonist.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 January 2020.

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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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