Our Everyday Greek: Protagonist and Agony are Related Greek Words

Αssociated Press

Olivia Colman accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role for "The Favourite" at the Oscars in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Discover the connection between protagonist and agony. As Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her role in Greek Director Lanthimos’ movie The Favourite, we will dedicate this month’s topic to Greek words in the English performing arts vocabulary. You will easily enrich your Greek vocabulary by realizing that you already know many more Greek words than you may think, and by discovering the etymological connections between English and Greek words.


Protagonist and deuteragonist are both Greek words, coming from the ancient Greek theatrical plays’ vocabulary. They are compound words from the numerical adjective πρώτος (=first), δεύτερος (=second) + αγώνας. The theatrical performances were then called αγώνες. Ο αγών in ancient Greek, ο αγώνας in modern Greek, means labor, competition, and the plural is αγώνες. The word αγών is familiar to you from the transliterated agony (αγωνία), which expresses the feeling during a competition. Isn’t etymology amazing?


During the so-called Dionysia Celebrations, a theatrical competition took place in Athens where the lyric poets, who were producers as well (as Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus) competed for the best drama tetralogy. They had to present a trilogy of tragedies and one satirical drama. Today we use the word αγώνας for football, soccer, basketball, volley ball etc. games as well. We say ποδοσφαιρικός αγώνας, αγώνας μπάσκετ, αγώνας βόλεϊ.


Πρώτος is a numerical adjective, which means first, δεύτερος means second, τρίτος means third and τέταρτος means fourth. It is easy to remember these Greek words, if you refer to the first compound of relevant English ones: prot+agonist, deuter+agonist, tri+logy, tetra+logy.

The adjectives in Greek have 3 grammatical genders. Τhe masculine grammatical gender of the numerical adjectives ends in -ος, the feminine in -η, and the neuter in -ο: Ο πρώτ-ος, η πρώτ-η, το πρώτ-ο; o δεύτερ-ος, η δεύτερ-η, το δεύτερ-ο; o τρίτος, η τρίτη, το τρίτο; o τέταρτος, η τέταρτη, το τέταρτο.


In Greek we have named the week days after numerical adjectives. Δευτέρα is the second after the first day of the week, Sunday, Κυριακή, which is dedicated to Κύριος, our Lord, God. Τρίτη, Tuesday, is the third after the Sunday. Τετάρτη is the fourth, Wednesday, and Πέμπτη, Thursday, is the fifth day of the week. Note the slight difference in the ending and the accented syllable between δεύτερη, the second, and Δευτέρα, Monday; and in the accented syllable between τέταρτη, the fourth and Τετάρτη, Wednesday.



Greek word   Pronunciation       Meaning

Ο πρωταγωνιστής       O protayoniSTEES      the protagonist (male)

Η πρωταγωνίστρια      EE protayonEEstria     the protagonist (female)

Ο πρώτος, -η, -ο  O PROtos, -i, -o   the first

Ο αγώνας      aYOnas the competition, labor

Η αγωνία       EE ayoNEEa the agony

Ο ποδοσφαιρικός αγώνας  O podosferiKOS aYOnas   the soccer game

Ο δεύτερος, -η, -ο O DEfteros    the second

Η Δευτέρα     EE defTEra   Monday

Ο δευτεραγωνιστής     O defterayoniSTEES   the deuteragonist

Ο τρίτος, -η, -ο     O TREEtos   the third

Η Τρίτη  EE TREEti    Tuesday

Η τριλογία     EE triloYEEa the trilogy

Ο τέταρτος, -η, -ο O TEtartos    the fourth

Η Τετάρτη     EE teTArti     Wednesday

Η τετραλογία EE tetraloYEEA   the tetralogy

Ο πέμπτος, -η, -ο O PEmptos   the fifth

Η Πέμπτη      EE PEmpti    Thursday

Η Κυριακή     EE kiriaKEE  Sunday



Can you translate into English? (έχω =have, έχει =has, είχε =had)

  1. Ο Λάνθιμος είχε αγωνία για το Όσκαρ.
  2. Η τριλογία έχει 3 τραγωδίες.
  3. Έχω αγωνία για τον ποδοσφαιρικό αγώνα Ελλάδας– Γερμανίας.
Can you say in Greek: Olivia Colman is the protagonist.



i (idiom), ee (bee), e (energy), o (organism), oo (boot), y (yes), h (helium), th (theory), d (the). The capitalized syllables are accented.