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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.
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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for protagonists
  • Beware films with protagonists depicted as vastly more sensitive than their fellow characters.
  • After, the observer will give feedback to the protagonists and the protagonists will give feedback to each other.
  • Any time is good for a natural event, where the protagonists are the whales.
  • Usually when dinosaurs appear in comic books or on screen they are there to menace the human protagonists of the story.
  • Both stories have mysterious creatures that really want the protagonists to stay.
  • The protagonists in this collection of stories try to cope with advancing years while clinging to some youthful ideals.
  • In many tales about college admissions, the protagonists are nearing a conclusion.
  • Sometimes such collisions result in the protagonists sticking together and making a bigger planet.
  • His photographs have been compared to film noir, with their intense focus on the mental state of their protagonists.
  • Accordingly, his protagonists were paleontologists and doctors and psychologists.
British Dictionary definitions for protagonists


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
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Word Origin and History for protagonists



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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protagonists 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 American Heritage® 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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Encyclopedia Article for protagonists


in ancient Greek drama, the first or leading actor. The poet Thespis is credited with having invented tragedy when he introduced this first actor into Greek drama, which formerly consisted only of choric dancing and recitation. The protagonist stood opposite the chorus and engaged in an interchange of questions and answers. According to Aristotle in his Poetics, Aeschylus brought in a second actor, or deuteragonist, and presented the first dialogue between two characters. Aeschylus' younger rival, Sophocles, then added a third actor, the tritagonist, and was able to write more complex, more natural dialogue. That there were only three actors did not limit the number of characters to three because one actor would play more than one character

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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