Definition of protagonist in US English:



  • 1The leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.

    • ‘Many sitcoms die because they feature protagonists whom the audience cannot relate to.’
    • ‘The inspector is not always right, and is often as exasperated and confused as any noir protagonist.’
    • ‘As the two central protagonists evolve, the supporting cast comes into its own.’
    • ‘The socializing of men, undertaken by females, is central to her novels, but her protagonists frequently refuse the task.’
    • ‘Her novels introduce strong female protagonists, usually African American, and characters of many colors.’
    • ‘Note that in this case, both gift-giving scenes portray the protagonists in symmetrical, equivalent poses.’
    • ‘The protagonist of Hemingway's novel, Jake Barnes, is impotent.’
    • ‘In this sense, any reader could be Orpheus, as indeed could any of the novel's protagonists.’
    • ‘One imagines that the earth-bound protagonists of later novels would simply not care enough to make the intergalactic journey.’
    • ‘In nearly every one of your novels, the protagonist is either unable to have a child or loses one.’
    • ‘Both books' protagonists become epic heroes in part because their technical mastery allows them to manipulate mass consumer networks.’
    • ‘The vast majority of female protagonists are unmarried women at peak reproductive age.’
    • ‘The protagonist of Conrad's novel undergoes a drastic change in response to his environment, common only to that specific time period.’
    • ‘Which would be the book's protagonist, Priscilla or Arthur?’
    • ‘For most of literary history, young male protagonists are characterized as orphans.’
    • ‘The film's protagonist, George, considers his life a failure.’
    • ‘He had played the protagonist, Ahab, in the 1956 film version.’
    • ‘The shattering and reclaiming of memory proceeds in similar ways for most of the central protagonists of the novel.’
    • ‘She also wrote several novels with mixed-race protagonists.’
    • ‘This is your second novel to feature a male protagonist.’
    leading actor, leading actress, leading performer, leading player, leading lady, leading man, lead, star
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    1. 1.1 The 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’
      • ‘It was also unclear what type of relationship existed between the main protagonists in the rebellion.’
      • ‘Such is his dedication to the job that he actually went along to both cup semi-finals to bone himself up on the main protagonists.’
      • ‘While the Korean summit made headlines, probably as important is a new triangular rapprochement fast taking place among the three main protagonists of Northeast Asia.’
      • ‘The pressure of the Premiership survival fight took its toll on two of the main protagonists in a hot-tempered first half at Goodison Park.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘An important part of the fantasy is that I am up there, ringside, with the opportunity to interview the main protagonists immediately before and after the fight.’
      • ‘It was relentlessly pro-royal with all critical faculties repressed, despite the rather chequered history of the two main protagonists.’
      • ‘All three of the main protagonists appear to be in something akin to top form and all were making confident noises after almost error-free rounds yesterday.’
      • ‘For each of the above points and many others I haven't mentioned that the positions held by the main protagonists of this war, up until recently, was to the contrary.’
      • ‘The chief objective in recording such details is to map the main protagonists in news reporting in an area and to begin to reveal some of the mechanics involved in the production of information for public consumption.’
      • ‘Aside from the main protagonists, how many voters have a clear idea of how ‘Corngate’ occurred and what it meant?’
      • ‘His approach is not to hero-worship the main protagonists, but to show the struggle of human beings in a historical context.’
      • ‘The film keeps cutting back from the snow to the real-life protagonists as they relive their experience.’
      • ‘This weekend the UN General Assembly begins another session with many of the main protagonists taking part and in the week ahead the holy fast of Ramadan will begin.’
      • ‘As an expert in the Soviet Union, he was much in demand and he was generous with his knowledge and insights, both of which had been honed by long hours of study into primary documents and discussion with the main protagonists.’
      • ‘It's the day after the failed wedding, and the two main protagonists are dealing with things in rather contrasting ways.’
      • ‘However sources close to the five main protagonists have all confirmed their involvement.’
      • ‘As far as this particular scenario is concerned, ethics may as well be a county in the south of England, so amorally do the main protagonists appear to have behaved.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He claims that political reconciliation is at hand if only the main protagonists would arrive at some common interpretation of the document to which they signed up.’
      chief character, central character, leading character, main character, principal character, central participant, chief participant, leading participant, main participant, principal participant, principal, hero, heroine, leading lady, leading man, title role, lead, star, player, key player, leading player, figure, leading figure, leading light
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    2. 1.2 An advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea.
      ‘a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy’
      • ‘The leading protagonists on each side traded barbs as they discussed changes that would open the door to challenging evolution.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘How might we compare the protagonists in the current debate about marriage with those in the earlier one?’
      • ‘As to the main debate, both protagonists have avoided the real issue of the control of the criminal behaviour known as benefit fraud.’
      • ‘The protagonists in the GM crop debate tend to overlook either good or bad aspects of GM crops in agriculture.’
      supporter, upholder, adherent, backer, proponent, advocate, promoter, champion, exponent, standard-bearer, torch-bearer, prime mover, moving spirit, mainstay, spokesman, spokesperson, spokeswoman
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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 meaning ‘in 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


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