LiteratureVocabularyWord Bank


In spite of repeated warnings not to confuse the words principal and principle in usage manuals, peevish spelling manuals, and one out of every eight online pages, people still frequently misuse these two words. They have been distinguished from one another using both humorous and serious mnemonic devices, in-depth analyses of their etymologies and grammatical components, and various forms of parody.

What do you call the person who leads the school? Is it principal or a principle? These two words are somewhat similar which confuses even the most experienced English speakers and makes them guess which word means what.

Both principle and principal are etymologically related. Principal came from the Latin word prīncipālis, which means “first chief”, while Principle came from principium, meaning “origin, beginning, basis or starting point”. Both terms can be traced back to the Latin word prīmus, which means “first, foremost”, thus the English prime.

In this article, we’ll tackle the distinct meanings of these easy-to-confuse words and that’ll leave you a little trick to tell the difference between your principles and principals.

Define Principal

Each may serve as a noun, but only the principal could also serve as an adjective. When used as an adjective, principal most commonly indicates “first or highest rank, influential, or value.” When used as a noun, principal can refer to “a person who has governing authority or is in a leadership position,” “a leading performer,” “the chief executive officer of an educational institution” or “a capital sum earning interest”.

When to use

Principal is both a noun and an adjective with different uses.

As a noun: Principal has different definitions and the most common is referring to a person who heads the school or is prominence. An example of this would be a school principal.


  • Professor Estelle Harris is the principal of East High.

Principle also has specific legal and financial significance. The term “principal” in finance designates a loan balance that must be repaid. A person who bears primary responsibility for an obligation or who is the primary perpetrator of a crime is referred to in law as the “principal.”


  • How much have you repaid on the principal of your loan?
  • He was the principal in this crime, acting alone.

As an adjective: It can mean “chief,” “leading,” or “main.”


  • The principal reason for my change of mind is Dianne’s colleague.

In this sentence “principal” is modifying the word “reason,” saying that Dianne’s colleague is the primary or main reason why I changed my mind.

Define Principle

On the other hand, a principle is “a fundamental concept or tenet” or “a norm of behavior or conduct.” It is also defined as an essential characteristic that stimulates conduct or other actions.

Principle, which means “of, connected to, or concerned with the principles or standards of good conduct or the distinction between right and wrong,” is frequently used as a synonym for moral.

When to use

A natural, moral, or legal rule or standard is often referred to as a principle. Here are some examples:

  • You are a man of principle
  • The principle of free speech is something that Americans take for granted.

Be careful not to mistakenly use “principal” while employing some common phrases that contain the term “principle.”

  • In principle, I agree with you.
  • I must take a stand as a matter of principle.
  • On principle, I agree with you.

These three well-known expressions all contain the word “principle” only.

How to Remember the Difference

Next, we’ll present a short list of mnemonic devices that have been found to help people remember the distinctions between these words.

1. The principal is my pal.
This acts as a reminder that the principal could actually exist and could even be a friend of yours.

2. The principal is not my pal.
This acts as a reminder that the principal could actually exist and could be your foe.

3. Principal has an A at the end, and the adjective has an A at the beginning.
This helps to act as a reminder that principal can serve as both a noun and an adjective, whereas principle can only serve as a noun.

4. Principal like the third word in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton’s three-volume book widely regarded as one of the most important mathematical treatises of the past few hundred years, is spelled similarly to primary, with an A at the end.
This serves as a reminder that Issac Newton spoke Latin with ease.

5. Principle, like ‘rule’, end ins “l-e”.
This helps to act as a reminder that both principle and rule end in le.

6. As opposed to principal, which means “most essential” or “person or object of considerable importance,” principle (meaning “code” or “law”) is spelled differently.
This serves as a reminder that these two words are distinct, having distinct spellings and meanings. It also serves to demonstrate how different mnemonics function differently for various individuals, so you should choose one that works for you without taking into account what functions differently for others. It also serves as a reminder that we all struggle with some areas of the English language and that little issues with spelling are nothing to be overly alarmed or taken too seriously about.

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Leana Jan Candoleta

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