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

  • n. The main character in a drama or other literary work.
  • n. 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.
  • n. A leading or principal figure.
  • n. The leader of a cause; a champion.
  • n. Usage Problem A proponent; an advocate.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

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

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

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


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").



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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