pro·​te·​an ˈprō-tē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio)
: of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms
: displaying great diversity or variety : versatile

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 sea-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 Humanity is a much more complex, protean planetary force than a meteorite strike or glacial retreat. Jan Zalasiewicz, Scientific American, 1 Dec. 2016 In theory selection may lead to a world of green-beards with infinite population sizes and generations, and persistent and consistent selection, but the world may be too protean for this optimal equilibrium to ever arise. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 23 Sep. 2010 Ballet Hispánico is at the top of its game here, and Lopez Ochoa displays the dancers’ silken, protean talents beautifully. Sarah L. Kaufman, Washington Post, 1 Dec. 2022 From its opening of a cassette clicking into a deck, FKA Twigs’ 17-track mixtape takes us through a protean universe of dancehall, trap-flecked R&B, and dreamy pop that skirts the mainstream to stay inventive. Spin Staff, SPIN, 26 Dec. 2022 When not composing operas, orchestral works or chamber pieces, Tyshawn Sorey is a protean drummer and band leader. San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Dec. 2022 Even assessments of subjectivity are protean and...subjective! Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 30 July 2013 Austin Ekeler remains among The League’s top protean backs. Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Nov. 2022 Interview works because the Louis-Lestat relationship is so protean. Darren Franich,, 14 Nov. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'protean.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of protean was in 1594


Dictionary Entries Near protean

Cite this Entry

“Protean.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


pro·​te·​an ˈprōt-ē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio)
: easily taking different shapes or roles

from Proteus, a god of the sea in Greek mythology who could change his form at will

Medical Definition


1 of 2 adjective
pro·​te·​an ˈprōt-ē-ən, prō-ˈtē- How to pronounce protean (audio)
: displaying great diversity or variety
a disease with protean clinical manifestations


2 of 2 noun
pro·​te·​an ˈprōt-ē-ən How to pronounce protean (audio)
: 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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