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Syllabification: pro·tag·o·nist
Pronunciation: /prōˈtaɡənəst, prəˈtaɡənəst/

Definition of protagonist in English:


1The leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
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 real 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/central/principal/main/leading character, chief/central/principal/main/leading participant, chief/central/principal/main/leading figure, chief/central/principal/main/leading player, principal, hero/heroine, leading man/lady, title role, lead
1.2An advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea: 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 first sense of protagonist, as originally used in connection with ancient Greek drama, is ‘the main character in a play.’ In the early 20th century, a new sense arose meaning ‘a supporter of a cause’: a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy. This new sense probably arose by analogy with antagonist, the pro- in protagonist being interpreted as meaningin favor of.’ In fact, the prot- in protagonist derives from the Greek root meaning ‘first.’ Protagonist is best used in its original dramatic, theatrical sense, not as a synonym for supporter or proponent. Further, because of its basic meaning of ‘leading character,’ such usage as the play’s half-dozen protagonists were well cast blurs the word’s distinctiveness; characters, instead of protagonists, would be more precise.

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