cul·​prit | \ˈkəl-prət, -ˌprit\

Definition of culprit 

1 : one accused of or charged with a crime The culprit pleaded "not guilty."

2 : one guilty of a crime or a fault The culprit expressed remorse at his sentencing.

3 : the source or cause of a problem Lack of exercise and poor diet are the main culprits in heart disease.

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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

Just less than half of the campaigns were for an obvious culprit: homeopathic or naturopathic treatments for cancer, which raised $3.5 million across 474 campaigns. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Hundreds of health crowdfunding campaigns are for sham treatments," 23 Oct. 2018 Two big culprits: opaque pricing and ever-changing insurance company rules about what’s covered and what’s not. Liz Weston, The Seattle Times, "Liz Weston: How to save money on health care," 22 Oct. 2018 Influenza is believed to be the culprit, as patients have demonstrated flu-like symptoms, a New York City health official said. Katherine Lam, Fox News, "Emirates plane carrying sick passengers lands at JFK airport, officials say," 2 Oct. 2018 The main culprits in Arizona’s case were low ratings for cultural vitality and crime. Dalvin Brown, USA TODAY, "Which state ranks best overall for retirement? South Dakota tops list," 12 July 2018 Evan Gattis twice was the culprit, popping up in the first after a walk to Altuve and a Gurriel base hit and grounding into a double play in the third after one-out walks to Altuve and Gurriel. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Yuli Gurriel's walkoff single sends Astros past White Sox," 5 July 2018 The main culprits: alcohol consumption, drugs, fatigue, inattention, and speed. Tony Bizjak, sacbee, "Here's your Fourth of July playbook for the Sacramento region," 3 July 2018 Striker Marcus Berg was the biggest culprit, spurning two openings in quick succession, while Albin Ekdal volleyed over with the goal at his mercy. Steve Douglas,, "Emil Forsberg delivers as Sweden reaches World Cup quarterfinals with 1-0 win over Switzerland," 3 July 2018 The culprit here, besides Walker, is ... at risk of sounding like a cantankerous old man ... our social media culture of sharing everything. Daniel Rapaport,, "FORE Questions: More Rules Headaches, Predicting Ryder Cup Rosters and Grading Tiger's Comeback," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'culprit.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of culprit

1678, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for culprit

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

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Statistics for culprit

Last Updated

15 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for culprit

The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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More Definitions for culprit



English Language Learners Definition of culprit

: a person who has committed a crime or done something wrong


cul·​prit | \ˈkəl-prət \

Kids Definition of culprit

: a person accused of, charged with, or guilty of a crime or fault

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More from Merriam-Webster on culprit

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with culprit

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for culprit

Spanish Central: Translation of culprit

Nglish: Translation of culprit for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of culprit for Arabic Speakers

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