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 For those looking to try their hand at making prototypes or artwork and/or creating their own toys, figurines, or desk ornaments, a 3D printer is a nice device to have around. Micki Wagner, Popular Mechanics, 6 Sep. 2023 Polestar just unveiled a new prototype with a winning design. Bryan Hood, Robb Report, 5 Sep. 2023 That precision is remarkable for a prototype with this much power. Tim Stevens, WIRED, 19 Aug. 2023 Perhaps the ultimate attempt to improve the MT-LB for direct combat was the unique prototype 18.5-ton Kevlar-E infantry fighting vehicle by UkrInnMash. Sébastien Roblin, Popular Mechanics, 2 Sep. 2023 Four students developed a prototype as part of a yearlong class project. Kelly Meyerhofer, Journal Sentinel, 30 Aug. 2023 Lake Central linebacker Jeffrey Lucas is the prototype for the position in so many ways. Dave Melton, Chicago Tribune, 28 Aug. 2023 Essentially a next-generation drone, the Valkyrie is a prototype for what the Air Force hopes can become a potent supplement to its fleet of traditional fighter jets, giving human pilots a swarm of highly capable robot wingmen to deploy in battle. Eric Lipton, New York Times, 27 Aug. 2023 The goal would be to produce two prototypes by 2028 for testing and trial runs. Vanessa Arredondo, Los Angeles Times, 26 Aug. 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 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

More from Merriam-Webster on prototype

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