Definition of protagonist in English:


Line breaks: pro|tag¦on|ist
Pronunciation: /prəˈtaɡ(ə)nɪst


1The leading character or one of the major characters in a play, film, novel, etc. the novel’s main protagonist is an American intelligence officer the hard-boiled protagonist of the movie Blade Runner
More example sentences
  • The protagonist of Conrad's novel undergoes a drastic change in response to his environment, common only to that specific time period.
  • The protagonist of Hemingway's novel, Jake Barnes, is impotent.
  • She also wrote several novels with mixed-race protagonists.
1.1The main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a situation: in this colonial struggle the main protagonists were Great Britain and France
More example sentences
  • He is doing a feature film on speech codes and political correctness on campus, with interviews directly from the protagonists in the various situations he investigated.
  • His approach is not to hero-worship the main protagonists, but to show the struggle of human beings in a historical context.
  • It opened dramatically, with a huge sheet of dark polythene reshaping itself from sea, to chiefs, to land and then figures of the Treaty protagonists.
chief character, central/principal/main/leading character, chief/central/principal/main/leading participant, principal, hero/heroine, leading man/lady, title role, lead, star, (leading/key) player, (leading) figure, leading light
2An advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea: he’s a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy
More example sentences
  • It was a quite important issue, and I thank Mr Peck, because he came up with the idea of bringing the protagonists and the antagonists into a debate situation to really get to the nitty-gritty of it.
  • The leading protagonists on each side traded barbs as they discussed changes that would open the door to challenging evolution.
  • How might we compare the protagonists in the current debate about marriage with those in the earlier one?


late 17th century: from Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōtos 'first in importance' + agōnistēs 'actor'.


The basic sense of protagonist, as originally used in connection with ancient Greek drama, is ‘the main character in a play’. Some traditionalists object to the looser use to refer to a number of characters (rather than just the main one) in a play, film, etc., as for example the play’s half-dozen protagonists were well cast, although this is both common and well established. Traditionalists also dislike the meaning ‘a supporter of a cause’, as in he’s a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy. This sense, recorded from the 19th century, probably arose by analogy with antagonist, the pro- in protagonist being interpreted as meaningin favour of’. In fact, prot- here derives from the Greek root meaning ‘first’.

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