cul·​prit ˈkəl-prət How to pronounce culprit (audio)
: one accused of or charged with a crime
The culprit pleaded "not guilty."
: one guilty of a crime or a fault
The culprit expressed remorse at his sentencing.
: the source or cause of a problem
Lack of exercise and poor diet are the main culprits in heart disease.

Did you know?

We would be culpable if we didn't clearly explain the origins behind culprit. Yes, it is related to culpable, which itself derives from Latin culpare, meaning "to blame," via Middle English and Anglo-French. But the etymology of culprit is not so straightforward. In Anglo-French, culpable meant "guilty," and this was abbreviated "cul." in legal briefs and texts. Culprit was formed by combining this abbreviation with prest, prit, meaning "ready"-that is, ready to prove an accusation. Literally, then, a culprit was one who was ready to be proven guilty. English then borrowed the word for one accused of a wrongdoing.

Examples of culprit in a Sentence

The police eventually located the culprits. the police caught the culprit a mere two blocks from the scene of the crime
Recent Examples on the Web Here, expressive responding among Democrats who disapprove of Biden may be the culprit. G. Elliott Morris, ABC News, 26 Sep. 2023 Higher interest rates are the culprit Greg McBride, Bankrate’s Chief Financial Analyst said that the Federal Reserve’s rate hiking campaign — the fastest in 40 years — is the primary reason banks and other lenders have gotten so strict about loans. Samantha Delouya, CNN, 22 Sep. 2023 That's because only a sliver of the population actually has a chronic skin condition, like eczema or rosacea — the real culprits behind intolerant skin. Liana Schaffner, Allure, 21 Sep. 2023 The culprit, a trust-fund monster counting on Daddy to make the rap go away, is beyond saving, but his crime directly impacts two brothers. Peter Debruge, Variety, 14 Sep. 2023 And extremely limited storage eliminates the opportunity for wasteful consumption of stuff, a significant American climate culprit. WIRED, 2 Sep. 2023 Local scientists suspect the bigger culprit is climate change, which has contributed to the decline of salmon populations in British Columbia by increasing droughts and heat waves. Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, 30 Aug. 2023 The theories are strikingly similar to those scientists suggest for the potential culprits fueling long COVID. Kay Lazar,, 29 Aug. 2023 If a child refuses to participate in activities other children enjoy, throws a tantrum before every appointment with the dentist or doctor, complains of feeling sick on Sunday nights, or spends a great deal of time in the school nurse's office, anxiety may be the culprit. Marisa Cohen, Parents, 18 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'culprit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Anglo-French cul. (abbreviation of culpable guilty) + prest, prit ready (i.e., to prove it), from Latin praestus — more at presto

First Known Use

1678, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of culprit was in 1678

Dictionary Entries Near culprit

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


cul·​prit ˈkəl-prət How to pronounce culprit (audio)
: one accused of or charged with a crime or fault
: one guilty of a crime or fault

More from Merriam-Webster on culprit

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