cul·​prit | \ ˈkəl-prət How to pronounce culprit (audio) , -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 like any other kind of food station, birdfeeders can be culprits in spreading of disease, says Kate Plummer, a research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology. Jason Bittel, National Geographic, "Why you shouldn't feed wild animals (except maybe birds)," 5 July 2019 People flipping cigarettes butts out the window are not the main culprits. Gary Richards, The Mercury News, "Fire danger is high from cars near highways: Roadshow," 4 July 2019 The main culprit is a state funding formula that has failed to keep pace with inflation, causing inequities in spending to widen as communities with the financial wherewithal can make up the difference and then some. James Vaznis,, "Report backs Governor Baker tying strings to new education dollars," 2 July 2019 The obesity epidemic and related rise in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes are key culprits in the new wave of cardiovascular disease mortality, researchers and cardiologists say. Betsy Mckay, WSJ, "Heart Attack at 49—America’s Biggest Killer Makes a Deadly Comeback," 21 June 2019 In the face of all logic and reason, the 29-year-old has been consistently linked with a return to the Premier League for as long as memory serves, with United being the main culprits., "Gareth Bale Yet Again Linked With Man Utd (!) as Premier League Giants Consider Loan Move," 9 June 2019 Antibiotics aren’t the only factor in developing fungal acne—sometimes our own habits are the culprits. Sara Coughlin, SELF, "How to Know if You Have 'Fungal Acne'—and How to Treat it," 1 Apr. 2019 In a December letter to the community, the school identified Charles K. Greening, who worked with high school students, as one culprit. Sheila Vilvens,, "Cincinnati Country Day School announces 2 former teachers have been accused of sex abuse," 21 June 2019 But this isn't the first time that technology has been identified as the culprit for health issues in young people. NBC News, "Tech disorder? Smartphones linked to bizarre horn-like skull bumps," 20 June 2019

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

14 Jul 2019

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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 How to pronounce culprit (audio) \

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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