pro·​to·​type ˈprō-tə-ˌtīp How to pronounce prototype (audio)
: an original model on which something is patterned : archetype
: an individual that exhibits the essential features of a later type
: a standard or typical example
: a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction (such as an airplane)

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The prefix prot-, or proto-, comes from Greek and has the basic meaning "first in time" or "first formed." A prototype is someone or something that serves as a model or inspiration for those that come later. A successful fund-raising campaign can serve as a prototype for future campaigns. The legendary Robin Hood, the "prototypical" kindhearted and honorable outlaw, has been the inspiration for countless other romantic heroes. And for over a century, Vincent van Gogh has been the prototype of the brilliant, tortured artist who is unappreciated in his own time.

Examples of prototype in a Sentence

They tested the prototype of the car. He is developing a prototype for his invention. He is the prototype of a conservative businessman. The Sherlock Holmes stories are the prototypes of modern detective stories.
Recent Examples on the Web Michelin, meanwhile, shod Porsche’s prototype electric GT4 e-Performance racer with tires said to be 53 percent renewable, like strap steel and lemon peels. Tim Stevens, The Verge, 17 Nov. 2023 Canon and Nikon already have prototype cameras with content credentialing support. IEEE Spectrum, 17 Nov. 2023 The bipedal humanoid robot has progressed rapidly since the first shaky prototype was revealed at the marque’s AI day in 2022. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 7 Nov. 2023 Fashion designers have started to ask AIs to generate new clothing prototypes. James Manyika and Michael Spence, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 At the moment, however, Adcock’s firm doesn’t have a prototype that’s ready for market. Matt O'Brien, Fortune, 5 Nov. 2023 The Pathfinder 1 prototype received a special airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in early September, as reported by IEEE Spectrum. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 27 Oct. 2023 The prototype yielded a stable output voltage of 2.28 millivolts and current of 2.47 nanoamperes at room temperature, though the latter number goes up as temperature rises. IEEE Spectrum, 27 Oct. 2023 The other is a girl who’s way too cute to be a minute over 17, lookin’ like a model on the cover of a magazine, the very prototype of the kind of female that teenage boys have been learning the guitar and forming bands to impress ever since the blues had a baby. Arsenio Orteza, SPIN, 25 Oct. 2023 See More

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

Word History


French, from Greek prōtotypon, from neuter of prōtotypos archetypal, from prōt- + typos type

First Known Use

1552, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of prototype was in 1552


Dictionary Entries Near prototype

Cite this Entry

“Prototype.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


pro·​to·​type ˈprōt-ə-ˌtīp How to pronounce prototype (audio)
: an original model on which something is patterned

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