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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Derwin James returns as his brilliant protean self. Nick Canepa Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Chargers have four areas of need, but need to avoid reaching at No. 13 in draft," 24 Apr. 2021 In the meantime, less protean Democrats are making the affirmative case. The Editors, National Review, "Democrats’ Court-Packing Two-Step," 16 Apr. 2021 Sweeney’s effectiveness as a novelist stems from her protean sympathy, her ability to move among these characters and capture each one’s feelings without judgment. Washington Post, "‘Good Company,’ Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s follow-up to ‘The Nest,’ is a sweeter novel with higher stakes," 30 Mar. 2021 Julia Iredale’s illustrations of artifacts (shown above), with museum-like captions, add to the immediacy of this protean story set 2,500 years ago. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Children’s Books: Defenestrating Dr. Seuss," 5 Mar. 2021 But thinking of Covid-19 as just a respiratory infection belies its protean nature. Andrew Joseph @drewqjoseph, STAT, "The coronavirus at 1: A year into the pandemic, what scientists know about how it spreads, infects, and sickens," 14 Dec. 2020 Hawke’s protean energy was a kind of antidote to the anxiety of abandonment. John Lahr, The New Yorker, "The Many Faces of Ethan Hawke," 14 Sep. 2020 Less than sixty days out from the election, Trump, unburdened by official campaign themes or facts, seems to be chasing a surprisingly large and protean coalition. Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, "How Trump Could Win," 11 Sep. 2020 In other words: Sketch comedy players require an almost uncanny protean flexibility that goes beyond simply making people laugh for a living. Robyn Bahr, The Hollywood Reporter, "Why the Emmys Needs a Separate Category for Sketch Comedy Performers," 14 Aug. 2020

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.

See More

First Known Use of protean

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about protean

Time Traveler for protean

Time Traveler

The first known use of protean was in 1594

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about protean

Statistics for protean

Last Updated

28 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Protean.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for protean



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

More from Merriam-Webster on protean

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for protean

Comments on protean

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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