Definition of protagonist in English:

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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?


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 meaning ‘in favour of’. In fact, prot- here derives from the Greek root meaning ‘first’.


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

  • agony from Late Middle English:

    Agony referred originally only to mental anguish. It came into English via late Latin from Greek agōnia, from agōn ‘contest’ (the base, too, of agonize (late 16th century)). The Greek sense development moved from struggle for victory in the games, to any struggle, to mental struggle specifically (such as the torment of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane). The extension in English to an idea of ‘physical’ suffering dates from the early 17th century. Greek agōn is also the source of the dramatic protagonist (late 17th century) from Greek proto- ‘first’ and a agōnistes ‘actor, contestant’ and at the root of antagonist (late 16th century) from anti- ‘against’ and agōnízesthai ‘struggle’.

Words that rhyme with protagonist

agonist, antagonist

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: pro|tag¦on|ist

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