pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprō-tē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio) , prō-ˈtē-\

Definition of protean

1 : of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms
2 : displaying great diversity or variety : versatile

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Did You Know?

Proteus was the original master of disguise. According to Greek mythology, the grizzled old shepherd of Poseidon's sea creatures possessed the gift of prophecy but didn't like to share his knowledge. Proteus would escape those who wanted to question him by changing his shape. The only way to get a straight answer from him was to sneak up behind him during his midday nap and hold onto him (while he frantically changed from shape to shape) until he eventually revealed what he knew. The adjective "protean" describes anyone or anything that is as mutable and adaptable as the mythological shepherd.

Examples of protean in a Sentence

a protean actor who is equally comfortable with light comedy and serious drama

Recent Examples on the Web

Armstrong is played by Ryan Gosling, a Canadian, and his wife, the wonderfully stoical Janet, by Claire Foy, an Englishwoman of protean talent who in a former life used to be The Queen. Gerard Baker, WSJ, "Hope for the Present in a Reminder of Greatness," 5 Oct. 2018 For one thing, electoral politics is protean: What worked in 2008 and 2012 is almost guaranteed not to work in 2020. Barton Swaim, WSJ, "Politics: End of the Rainbow," 5 July 2018 Philip Roth, the prolific, protean, and often blackly comic novelist who was a pre-eminent figure in 20th-century literature, died on Tuesday night at a hospital in Manhattan. New York Times, "Philip Roth, Towering Novelist Who Explored Lust, Jewish Life and America, Dies at 85," 22 May 2018 China’s vast, protean economy is certainly difficult to enumerate. The Economist, "China’s statistics are bad. Many criticisms of them are worse," 7 July 2018 In a bilateral summit, the German chancellor and French president agreed to work toward some protean form of eurowide fiscal union. Joseph C. Sternberg, WSJ, "Don’t Count on an Aging Germany to Save the Euro," 21 June 2018 Roth’s output was protean, too wide, too deep and too fervent to truly capture in an appraisal of this length, composed overnight after learning of his death late the previous evening. New York Times, "Philip Roth, a Born Spellbinder and Peerless Chronicler of Sex and Death," 23 May 2018 In the years since, Assayas has become a critical and art-house favorite, as well as perhaps the most protean and cosmopolitan of working French filmmakers. Justin Chang,, "'Cold Water,' Olivier Assayas' brilliant 1994 film, finally arrives in the U.S.," 17 May 2018 Not only do the reedist’s striated, razor-sharp improvisations cut through the din like butter, her slashing, protean playing seems to inspire her partners toward even greater extremes. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Punishing improvisation duo Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon traffics in pure sound," 8 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'protean.' 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 protean

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of protean was in 1594

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English Language Learners Definition of protean

literary + formal : able to change into many different forms or able to do many different things


pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprōt-ē-ən, prō-ˈtē- How to pronounce protean (audio) \

Medical Definition of protean

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: displaying great diversity or variety a disease with protean clinical manifestations


pro·​te·​an | \ ˈprōt-ē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio) \

Medical Definition of protean (Entry 2 of 2)

: any of various insoluble primary protein derivatives that result from a slight modification of the protein molecule especially by the action of water, very dilute acids, or enzymes

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food or victuals

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