Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary
1

principal

play
adjective prin·ci·pal \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\

Simple Definition of principal

  • : most important

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of principal

  1. 1 :  most important, consequential, or influential :  chief <the principal ingredient> <the region's principal city>

  2. 2 :  of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal(see 2principal)

principally play \-sə-p(ə-)lē, -sə-bə-lē, -splē\ adverb

Usage Discussion of principal

Although nearly every handbook and many dictionaries warn against confusing principle and principal, many people still do. Principle is only a noun; principal is both adjective and noun. If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.

Examples of principal in a sentence

  1. If any suspect that Griswold was exaggerating, they should reflect on the fact that the principal Supreme Court case justifying the invocation of the national security privilege was based on a governmental lie. —Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009

  2. Following the agreement, the four principal tobacco companies—Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard—raised their prices more than 45 cents per pack. The costs of the settlement, as predicted, were passed on to consumers. —Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, 2007

  3. Their principal industry was the manufacture, in a long, low, mostly-wooden, two-story factory, of cold cream. —Frederick Busch, Too Late American Boyhood Blues, 1984

  4. Vegetables are the principal ingredients in this soup.

  5. She is the principal cellist of the orchestra.



Origin of principal

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin principalis, from princip-, princeps


First Known Use: 14th century


2

principal

play
noun prin·ci·pal \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\

Simple Definition of principal

  • : the person in charge of a public school

  • : the person in charge of a university or college

  • : an amount of money that is put in a bank or lent to someone and that can earn interest

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of principal

  1. 1 :  a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position: as a :  a chief or head man or woman b :  the chief executive officer of an educational institution c :  one who engages another to act as an agent subject to general control and instruction; specifically :  the person from whom an agent's authority derives d :  the chief or an actual participant in a crime e :  the person primarily or ultimately liable on a legal obligation f :  a leading performer :  star

  2. 2 :  a matter or thing of primary importance: as a (1) :  a capital sum earning interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund (2) :  the corpus of an estate, portion, devise, or bequest b :  the construction that gives shape and strength to a roof and is usually one of several trusses; broadly :  the most important member of a piece of framing

principalship play \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl-ˌship, -sə-bəl-\ noun

Usage Discussion of principal

Although nearly every handbook and many dictionaries warn against confusing principle and principal, many people still do. Principle is only a noun; principal is both adjective and noun. If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.

Examples of principal in a sentence

  1. the new high school principal

  2. One of the principals in the assassination plot has been arrested.



Origin of principal

(see 1principal)


First Known Use: 14th century


PRINCIPAL Defined for Kids

1

principal

play
adjective prin·ci·pal \ˈprin-sə-pəl\

Definition of principal for Students

  1. :  highest in rank or importance :  chief <My sister had the principal part in the school play.>

principally adverb



2

principal

play
noun prin·ci·pal

Definition of principal for Students

  1. 1 :  the head of a school

  2. 2 :  a leading or most important person or thing

  3. 3 :  a sum of money that is placed to earn interest, is owed as a debt, or is used as a fund



Headscratcher for principal

Principal and principle sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings. A principle is a basic truth or theory that people base other ideas on, as in science. A principal is the head of a school. A commonly used way of remembering the spelling is by remembering that the principal is your pal.


Law Dictionary

1

principal

play
adjective prin·ci·pal \ˈprin-sə-pəl\

Legal Definition of principal

  1. 1 :  being the main or most important, consequential, or influential <their principal place of business> <the principal obligor>

  2. 2 :  of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal <the principal amount of the loan>




2

principal

noun prin·ci·pal

Legal Definition of principal

  1. 1 :  a participant in an action or transaction especially having control or authority <the principals of a business>: as a :  one who engages another to act for him or her subject to his or her general control or instruction :  one from whom an agent derives authority to act — compare fiduciary b :  one who commits a crime or instigates, encourages, or assists another to commit it especially when constructively or actually present — see also accessory 1 principal in the first degree :  a principal under common law who intentionally commits and is actually or constructively present at the commission of a crime principal in the second degree :  a principal under common law who aids, encourages, or commands another to commit a crime and is actually or constructively present when it is committed c :  the person primarily liable on a legal obligation or one who will ultimately bear the burden because of a duty to indemnify another as distinguished from one (as an endorser, surety, or guarantor) who is secondarily liable

  2. 2 :  a capital sum earning interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund <shall receive the income from the trust until age 18, and thereafter the principal> <payments shall be applied first to interest and then to principal>; also :  the main body of an estate, devise, or bequest





Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up principal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a timid, meek, or unassertive person

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

alt-5746713d76276

Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

disapprove soothe perplex reduce
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ