Principal vs. Principle

Principal vs. Principle (Explained with examples)

I see principle and principal used interchangeably, I also notice job posting for College Principle positions as well as blog posts about Scheduling Principals in Java Applications.

These words can be confusing because they look and sound alike but they have very different meanings.

When used as a noun, principal refers to a person who takes a leading part in some activity, as a play; chief actor or doer. While using it as an adjective, it is “the topmost rank or authority.” This is the correct word to use when referring to college Principal title or positions.

Principle is “a rule of conduct or action”. It would have been the correct word to use in the title of the blog referred above.

The reality is that I will refuse to apply for a college Principle position and I am very unlikely to read a blog that misuses the word principals in a title. Call it a question of principles if you have to.

Principal: most important, consequential, or influential
principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption

When to Use Principal

The principal can be used both a noun and an adjective.

As a noun, “principal” has different meanings. The most general meaning is used to refer to a person of high authority or prominence, someone who plays or holds an important role. An example of this would be a Principal of a school.

  • Mr. Jacob is the principal of the high school.

The principal also has particular meanings in finance and law. In terms of finance, “principal” refers to a loan amount requiring repayment. In law, “principal” refers to a person having prime responsibility for an obligation or the key actor in the perpetration of a crime. Here are some examples,

  • How much do you have to repay on the principal of your loan?
  • She was the principal in this crime, acting alone.

While as an adjective, “principal” has the sense of “leading” “chief,” or “primary.” For example,

  • The principal reason of World War 2 was Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

In this sentence “principal” is describing the word “cause,” saying that Hitler’s invasion of Poland is the primary or chief reason for the start of World War 2.

In short, the principal doesn’t have to refer to a person who has that as a title. It can refer to just about anything that has been given the most consequential, important, or influential role.

Example: Chocolate is the principal ingredient in the Ice cream.
Example: The principal thought to take away from the lecture is: cat videos are funny.

Remember that in the first example sentence, principal is a noun. On the other hand, in the last two sentences, principal is an adjective. Principal can be used as both a noun and an adjective.

When to Use Principle

Principle is only used as a noun and generally refers to a moral, natural, legal rule or standard. It can be referred to a fundamental law, doctrine, or tenet. You can also use it to refer to grammatical principles, meaning rules, or you could say that someone is a man of principle, meaning a man who has strong ideals. As a matter of fact, “principle” has nothing to do with a job title. Some examples are

The principle of free speech is something that people take for granted.

Some of the most admired phrases that use the word “principle,” are described below, so while using these phrases, be sure not to accidentally use “principal.”

  1. In principle, she agrees with you.
  2. On principle, He agrees with you.
  3. As a matter of principle, He must take a stand.

Remember the difference

I still remember one of my elementary school teachers teaching me this tip to keep in mind the correct endings of these two words. She use to say, “The principal is your pal.” While this may have painted an overly rosy view of people who hold the “most important, consequential, or influential” positions within schools (I’m looking at you, Mr Jonathon), it worked.

Example: Mr. Jonathon was a really mean principal. He was so not my pal.

‘Principle’ is all the time a noun, whereas ‘principal’ can be either a noun or an adjective. Therefore if you’re describing something like the most significant or first of something, the word you’ll need is ‘principal.

Furthermore, if you keep in mind that ‘principal’ is an adjective meaning ‘most important’, you can use this as a reminder that it’s also a word to describe the main or most important person in a group.

Now, it should be easy to recall that a ‘principle’ is a rule, law or guideline.


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