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

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

The larger-than-life music icon, fictional movie protagonist and pivotal U.S. president each have been featured as weekly themes for the Gophers football team under head coach P.J. Fleck. Andy Greder, Twin Cities, "Gophers coach P.J. Fleck’s specialty is mixing fun with football," 6 Sep. 2019 At times, My Days of Glory can seem as disorderly as its protagonist, and one wonders whether the chaos was deliberate or merely the result of a first-time director still figuring his movie out. Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, "'My Days of Glory' ('Mes jours de gloire'): Film Review | Venice 2019," 31 Aug. 2019 More effort in detailed cutscenes or an internal monologue could have helped players bond with the protagonist and secondary characters. Gieson Cacho, The Mercury News, "Review: A critical disconnect hamstrings potential of ‘Oninaki’," 23 Aug. 2019 Coming-of-age narratives set in disadvantaged communities too often escalate into battles between extraordinary protagonists and the relationships that tie them to that environment. Judy Berman, Time, "David Makes Man Is a Stirring Portrait of Black Boyhood From a Moonlight Writer," 8 Aug. 2019 As noted by Entertainment Weekly, some Euphoria viewers think that Rue, who serves as the protagonist and the narrator of the series, might have actually died as a result of her drug overdose that takes place prior to the first episode. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, ""Euphoria" Fan Theory Suggests Zendaya's Character Might Be Dead," 6 July 2019 For most of the novel Ms Di Pietrantonio keeps both her protagonist and her readers in the dark. The Economist, "The story of a lost girl," 29 June 2019 These fright fests – which, interestingly, lean very female in terms of protagonists and antagonists – scare up decent box office, too: Four of the six so far have topped $100 million. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "All 'The Conjuring' horror movies, ranked (including new 'Annabelle Comes Home')," 25 June 2019 Ian Michler, the film’s protagonist and narrator, who has worked as a safari operator, journalist, and conservation advocate for more than 25 years, estimates that the number today is around 10,000. Rachel Fobar, National Geographic, "More than 100 neglected lions found in a South African breeding facility," 8 May 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.

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

Statistics for protagonist

Last Updated

13 Sep 2019

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).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!