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Protonation refers to addition of H+ to oxygen of OH group. It is easier when O has more electron density, i.e. when nucleophilic character of O is more.
In alcohols the electron density on oxygen is high due to localization of its lone pair and electron donating nature of alkyl group. So their protonation is easy.
However in phenols, the lone pair of oxygen is in resonance with the benzene ring and thus is delocalized. So protonation of phenols is difficult.
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