What Is a Protagonist? | Definition & Examples

Protagonist is a noun meaning “principal character in a fictional work.” It can also be used more broadly to refer to the main participants in a real-life event. And it can be used to refer to the leader of a cause or a supporter of an idea, though this meaning is less common.

The word “protagonist” comes from an ancient Greek term for an actor who plays the main role in a drama. In fiction, a protagonist is traditionally a heroic figure, opposed by a hostile antagonist.

Examples: “Protagonist” in a sentence
An interesting protagonist should overcome obstacles and grow as a character.

A story can have multiple protagonists.

The protagonists of the Hundred Years’ War were France and England.

Zoey is a protagonist of labor rights.

Protagonist vs. antagonist

The word protagonist comes from an ancient Greek term for an actor who plays the main role in a drama. In fiction, a protagonist is traditionally a heroic figure, opposed by a hostile antagonist.

While the word “antagonist” is typically negative when used to refer to a fictional character (generally the villain of the story), the word can also be used more generally to mean “opponent” or “adversary.” In a dispute between two or more people or groups, both (or all) sides can be described as antagonists.

Examples: “Antagonist” in a sentence
The antagonist of the film was a corrupt judge.

The workers and management are bitter antagonists in this dispute.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

Frequently asked questions

What is a synonym of “protagonist”?

There are numerous synonyms for the various meanings of protagonist.

Main character in a story Main participant in an event Leader or supporter of a cause
Central figure Actor Advocate
Hero(ine) Key figure Champion
Lead(ing) character Main figure Exponent
Main character Principal player Promoter
Proponent
Supporter
Upholder
What is the opposite of “protagonist”?

In fiction, the opposite of a protagonist is an antagonist, meaning someone who opposes the protagonist.

More generally, some antonyms for “protagonist” include:

  • Adversary
  • Critic
  • Enemy
  • Foe
  • Opponent
  • Rival
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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.

1 comment

Eoghan Ryan
Eoghan Ryan (Scribbr Team)
August 29, 2022 at 5:03 PM

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