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

The most common culprits are big, top-heavy items that aren’t anchored to a wall, like dressers, bureaus, and chests. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "Emergency Responders Share 9 of the Biggest Death Traps in Your Home," 14 July 2018 Her story ended happily: After a security camera identified the culprit, a woman who also lived at the residential care home, executive director Kathy Seaman set up a tête-à-tête that culminated with the two women becoming friends. Robert Weisman,, "Gay boomers look ahead to an old age colored by uncertainty and the help of friends," 9 June 2018 The entity seems to be more of a trip line to detect future attacks than a concerted effort to find the culprits behind the Cuban and Chinese incidents. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "The U.S. Is Still Clueless About the Creepy 'Sonic' Attacks in China and Cuba," 7 June 2018 Most Western media outlets have become quite skilled—through years of practice—at writing headlines and describing Israeli massacres using the passive tense so as to hide the culprit. The Economist, "The weasel voice in journalism," 24 May 2018 Noxon believes the primary culprit could be the millions of pounds of sand and silt have displaced the water, causing it to rise faster. David Taylor, Houston Chronicle, "Trinity River changed by Hurricane Harvey," 22 May 2018 Many economists disagree and point instead to automation as the main culprit. Andrew Khouri,, "Port of L.A. estimates 15% of cargo could be subject to U.S., Chinese tariffs," 27 June 2018 Overall sales have weakened in the U.S., market share has shrunk, and McDonald's has identified lost breakfast customers as the main culprit. Leslie Patton,, "McDonald's wants to win breakfast by selling the best part of the muffin," 26 June 2018 The Chelsea midfielder targeted Gerard Pique as the main culprit, and also went on to tell of another antic which had the Barcelona defender's name written all over it., "6 of the Biggest Pranksters in Football," 17 June 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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Last Updated

6 Oct 2018

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The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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


not any or not one

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