Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The main character in a drama or other literary work.
  • noun In ancient Greek drama, the first actor to engage in dialogue with the chorus, in later dramas playing the main character and some minor characters as well.
  • noun A leading or principal figure.
  • noun The leader of a cause; a champion.
  • noun Usage Problem A proponent; an advocate.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In the Gr. drama, the leading character or actor in a play; hence, in general, any leading character.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun One who takes the leading part in a drama; hence, one who takes lead in some great scene, enterprise, conflict, or the like.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun The main character in a any story, such as a literary work or drama.
  • noun A leading person in a contest; a principal performer.
  • noun An advocate or champion of a cause or course of action.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun the principal character in a work of fiction
  • noun a person who backs a politician or a team etc.

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Greek prōtagōnistēs : prōto-, proto- + agōnistēs, actor, combatant (from agōnizesthai, to contend, from agōn, contest, from agein, to drive, lead; see ag- in Indo-European roots).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes, "a chief actor"), from πρῶτος (protos, "first") + ἀγωνιστής (agōnistēs, "a combatant, pleader, actor").

Examples

  • The main protagonist is female, often develops complex relationships with the women she meets on her journey, and romance is mostly left in the background, at least in the first couple books.

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  • Quinn, the main protagonist, is a middle-aged government official sent north to audit a remote area of land earmarked for a large and prestigious development.

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  • Characterization, or rather the main protagonist, is without a doubt the biggest strength of the novel, before all other aspects - such as style, elements of "hard science", plotting or the lackluster worldbuilding.

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  • Comic book publishers are comfortable working with that demographic and it makes sense for an office comedy where the main protagonist is a guy aged 24.

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  • The main protagonist is Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-Envoy who was trained to survive being digitally transmitted across to space to inhabit new bodies and fight for the United Nations.

    An Amazon.com Books Blog featuring news, reviews, interviews and guest author blogs.

  • Characterization, or rather the main protagonist, is without a doubt the biggest strength of the novel, before all other aspects - such as style, elements of "hard science", plotting or the lackluster worldbuilding.

    John Scalzi - Old Man's War (Book Review)

  • Not that I'd really want to learn our main protagonist is a werewolf moonlighting as a member of the local police force on my own, but telling me immediately after you state the story's title just ruins any pinch of surprise their might be.

    Sleeping In Hardcore

  • I'm really just using these as nominal labels for degrees of saturation or non-saturation with alethic quirks -- "mythic" for the point where the protagonist is themselves arcane/exotic/chimeric, "non-mythic" for the zones where the quirks are dissipated to the point of being subliminal or absent.

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  • In the first line the protagonist is asking the watch not to keep time.

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  • In the first line the protagonist is asking the watch not to keep time.

    Developing An Ear for Spanish

Comments

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  • Here's the Usage Note from The American Heritage Dictionary:

    "The protagonist of a Greek drama was its leading actor, of whom there could be but one in any play. This is an etymological nicety that many modern writers continue to observe when using the word to refer to the main character of a drama or other fiction. Thus when the members of the Usage Panel were asked “How many protagonists are there in Othello?” the great majority answered “One” and offered substitutes such as antagonist, villain, principal, and deuteragonist to describe Desdemona and Iago. But there is reputable precedent from the 17th century on for using protagonist to mean simply “important actor” or “principal party,” with no implication of uniqueness, as in There are three protagonists in this sluggish novel. Smith and Jones were the protagonists in the struggle over the future of the computer company. Thus, while some writers may prefer to confine the word to a singular sense in their own usage, it is pedantic to insist that the looser use is incorrect. The use of protagonist to refer to a proponent has become common only in the 20th century and may have been influenced by a misconception that the first syllable of the word represents the prefix pro-, “favoring.” In sentences such as He was an early protagonist of nuclear power, this use is likely to strike many readers as an error and can usually be replaced by advocate or proponent with no loss of sense."

    January 24, 2011