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

For a gun that, like the Model T Ford, is famous for being black, the AR-15 is as protean as firearms get. Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review, "To Build an AR-15," 12 Sep. 2019 The indefatigable Toledo was a protean figure who, apart from his vast artworks, was also a social activist, cultural conservationist, environmentalist, teacher and philanthropist. Los Angeles Times, "Appreciation: Francisco Toledo, a colossus of Mexican culture," 6 Sep. 2019 That protean nature is reflected in his teams and his record. Globe Staff,, "Bill Belichick’s true genius lies in course corrections," 5 Sep. 2019 The rest of the characters — sympathetic, skeptical, intimidating and just plain evil — troop in one by one, their various personalities embodied in this extraordinary narrator's protean voice. Dallas News, "Don't let a bad reader ruin your audiobook experience: Here are recordings to savor — and to avoid," 20 Aug. 2019 The rest of the characters — sympathetic, skeptical, intimidating, and just plain evil — troop in one by one, their various personalities embodied in this extraordinary narrator’s protean voice. Katherine A. Powers, Washington Post, "Don’t let a bad reader ruin your audiobook experience. Here are recordings to savor — and to avoid.," 5 Aug. 2019 Tines’s solos, foundationally operatic but with some flexibility to the protean score, serve as a through line, and his spoken parts bookend the piece, grounding the production in the text. Maya Phillips, The New Yorker, "“The Black Clown” Beautifully Reconfigures a Langston Hughes Poem," 24 July 2019 But English is such a beautiful, rich, protean language to render ugly and dumb. Nr Editors, National Review, "The Week," 25 July 2019 The twenty-four-year-old photographer’s ornate, protean wardrobe provides a kind of disguise. Eren Orbey, The New Yorker, "A Photographer’s Elaborate Transformations in His Childhood Bedroom," 18 July 2019

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

Listen to Our Podcast about protean

Statistics for protean

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for protean

The first known use of protean was in 1594

See more words from the same year

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).


miscellaneous remnants or debris

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?

Add Diction

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!