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[proh-tag-uh-nist] /proʊˈtæg ə nɪst/
the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.
a proponent for or advocate of a political cause, social program, etc.
the leader or principal person in a movement, cause, etc.
the first actor in ancient Greek drama, who played not only the main role, but also other roles when the main character was offstage.
Physiology. agonist.
Origin of protagonist
1665-75; < Greek prōtagōnistḗs actor who plays the first part, literally, first combatant, equivalent to prôt(os) first + agōnistḗs one who contends for a prize, combatant, actor. See proto-, antagonist
Related forms
protagonism, noun
Can be confused
antagonist, proponent, protagonist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for protagonist
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He is still the Great Erastian, the protagonist of laity against clergy.

    Henry VIII. A. F. Pollard
  • In the absence of Fox, Grey was the protagonist of Opposition.

    William Pitt and the Great War John Holland Rose
  • And contradiction demands a "for" and an "against," a protagonist and an antagonist.

    The Complex Vision John Cowper Powys
  • There is no longer a protagonist in the great drama, for there is no longer an antagonist.

    The Complex Vision John Cowper Powys
  • And he had been the protagonist of everything sensible, orthodox, and prudent!

    The Prodigal Father J. Storer Clouston
British Dictionary definitions for protagonist


the principal character in a play, story, etc
a supporter, esp when important or respected, of a cause, political party, etc
Derived Forms
protagonism, noun
Word Origin
C17: from Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōtos first + agōnistēs actor
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for protagonist

1670s, "principal character in a story, drama, etc.," from Greek protagonistes "actor who plays the chief or first part," from protos "first" (see proto-) + agonistes "actor, competitor," from agon "contest" (see act (n.)). Meaning "leading person in any cause or contest" is from 1889. Mistaken sense of "advocate, supporter" (1935) is from misreading of Greek protos as Latin pro- "for."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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protagonist in Culture
protagonist [(proh-tag-uh-nist)]

The principal character in a literary work. Hamlet, for example, is the protagonist of the play by William Shakespeare that bears his name.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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