The difference between “principal” and “principle”

These words are pronounced the same way, but their meanings are different.

Principal” can be an adjective and a noun.

It is most commonly used as an adjective, meaning “main” or “most important”:

Her principal area of responsibility is economic policy.

The principal reason why we cannot accept his application is because he is not a citizen of an EU member state.

As a noun, the most common meaning of “principal” is:

  • Someone who holds a position of leadership, especially the headmaster/headmistress of a school

In the fields of business and law “principal” also has the following meanings:

  • A person who authorises another to act as a representative, e.g. an agent or an attorney is authorised by a principal
  • A person with the main responsibility for an obligation, as opposed to that person’s surety or guarantor
  • A person who commits a criminal offence

“Principal” also has financial meanings:

  • The capital or main part of a financial holding, as opposed to the interest or revenue it earns
  • The amount of a debt upon which interest is calculated, i.e. the amount borrowed, excluding interest

Principle” is a noun.

It has two related meanings:

  • A basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something works or happens – the principles of democracy, the hereditary principle, the principle of electro-magnetic conduction
  • A moral rule or standard of good behaviour – He is a man of principle; That woman has no principles; I do not eat meat on principle; In principle I agree with you
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One Response to The difference between “principal” and “principle”

  1. We were always told: The principal is your “pal” – that only helps when you’re writing about the leader of your school. Thanks for explaining the rest!

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