pro·​tag·​o·​nist | \ prō-ˈta-gə-nist How to pronounce protagonist (audio) \

Definition of protagonist

1a(1) : the principal character in a literary work (such as a drama or story)
(2) : the leading actor or principal character in a television show, movie, book, etc.
b : an active participant in an event
2 : a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause : champion

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Struggle, or conflict, is central to drama. The protagonist or hero of a play, novel, or film is involved in a struggle of some kind, either against someone or something else or even against his or her own emotions. So the hero is the "first struggler", which is the literal meaning of the Greek word prōtagōnistēs. A character who opposes the hero is the antagonist, from a Greek verb that means literally "to struggle against".

Examples of protagonist in a Sentence

Badlands has two protagonists and Days of Heaven four (though both movies are rich in colorful minor roles). — Richard Alleva, Commonweal, 12 Mar. 1999 The protagonists of Gordon's fiction are children who have been saddled with their parents' emotional bad debts. — Judith Thurman, New Yorker, 12 Mar. 1990 The most adamant opposition to my argument is likely to come from protagonists of secular reason … — Glenn Finder, Atlantic, December 1989 She was a leading protagonist in the civil rights movement. Milton Friedman is usually cited as the leading American protagonist of monetarism.
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Recent Examples on the Web In both books, the teen-ager possesses a rare object that has been removed from a great museum; the subsequent adventures of the object are inextricable from the adventures of the protagonist. James Wood, The New Yorker, 27 Sep. 2021 But most challenging was pinpointing the source of his protagonist’s pain and guilt, which was Lish’s own. Tobias Carroll, Los Angeles Times, 2 Sep. 2021 Ingram plays Jolene, a rebellious teenager at the Methuen Home, an orphanage for girls, who becomes the closest childhood friend of the protagonist, Beth Harmon (played by, at different ages, Annabeth Kelly, Isla Johnston and Anya Taylor-Joy). New York Times, 25 Aug. 2021 As Kiarostami treats us to extended scenes of his protagonist driving around, the landscape gliding past his windows, something mesmerizing and even kind of exciting emerges. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 2 July 2021 The fact that these hangouts really do feel like dates for the player character is significant, considering nothing changes depending on the gender of your protagonist. Paul Tassi, Forbes, 18 Mar. 2021 The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is based on Asia, and that’s woven into the narrative of its protagonist, the monk Aang. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 6 Mar. 2021 Good Morning, Midnight, has taken numerous liberties with what follows, include the aging down of its protagonist by some two decades. Leah Greenblatt,, 9 Dec. 2020 Carl Winslow, the protagonist of the ’90s sitcom Family Matters, wore his badge with honor. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, 13 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'protagonist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of protagonist

1671, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for protagonist

Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōt- prot- + agōnistēs competitor at games, actor, from agōnizesthai to compete, from agōn contest, competition at games — more at agony

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Time Traveler for protagonist

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The first known use of protagonist was in 1671

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Last Updated

9 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Protagonist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for protagonist



English Language Learners Definition of protagonist

: the main character in a novel, play, movie, etc.
: an important person who is involved in a competition, conflict, or cause

More from Merriam-Webster on protagonist

Nglish: Translation of protagonist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of protagonist for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about protagonist


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