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.

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 Sometimes, something as simple as a loose gas cap can be the culprit. Nick Kurczewski, Car and Driver, 13 May 2022 If Lucky Charms turns out to be the culprit, the question then would be whether some ingredient in the cereal or a contaminant such as an infectious pathogen or chemical is to blame. Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes, 7 May 2022 If taste is the culprit, one bitter-taste receptor in particular might be to blame: TAS2R7. Rachel Gutman, The Atlantic, 5 May 2022 The panel issued its report in 2018, concluding that a small decrease in the aerodynamic drag on the baseballs was the culprit. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 14 Apr. 2022 Whenever Niemeyer concluded that a wolf was not the culprit, ranchers called him a traitor. Paige Williams, The New Yorker, 28 Mar. 2022 Surges in death rates match those in Covid cases, suggesting the virus was the culprit. Stephanie Nolen, New York Times, 23 Mar. 2022 In a test of eight people who’d recently been infected with Omicron (and given the timing, BA.1 was assumed to be the culprit), most of them had high antibody levels against the BA.2 variant. Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar. 2022 If the price of something is declining, what would elementary economics suggest might be the culprit? Edwin T. Burton, National Review, 7 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for culprit


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

More from Merriam-Webster on culprit

Nglish: Translation of culprit for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of culprit for Arabic Speakers


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