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 Garland’s guard mate, Collin Sexton, was the other culprit. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "Cleveland Cavaliers throw away chance to show how far they’ve come since opener, lose to Orlando Magic 116-104," 28 Nov. 2019 On Wednesday’s Good Morning America, the culprit was revealed to be John Boyega, who plays Resistance fighter Finn in the franchise. James Hibberd,, "Star Wars actor confesses to accidentally leaking Rise of Skywalker script," 27 Nov. 2019 The report, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), points directly at most of the world’s largest economies as the chief culprits in the global failure to stem greenhouse gas emissions. Justin Worland, Time, "Current Plans to Stem Climate Change Will Still Lead to Catastrophe, U.N. Warns," 26 Nov. 2019 Cal enjoyed two weeks of lively publicity before the culprits agreed to return the Tree. Bruce Jenkins,, "Cal vs. Stanford: The Big Game often comes with a little tomfoolery," 22 Nov. 2019 Noise in the room rose to a dull roar until a balloon popped, briefly spooking the class as two dozen eyes gazed towards the culprit. Ashley Mcbride,, "More high-poverty schools in San Antonio win ‘gold ribbons’," 17 Nov. 2019 And the culprit just so happened to be the puppy Andee and Tina are adopting. Greta Bjornson,, "Bridal Party Encourages Adoption by Swapping Bouquets for Sweet Puppies in Flower Crowns," 15 Nov. 2019 Sale believed the Tigers were stealing signs because a player in the Sox dugout had been performing counter-espionage, spying with binoculars on the culprit in the bleachers. Paul Sullivan,, "Column: Baseball’s sign-stealing controversy is an old story with a modern, high-tech twist," 15 Nov. 2019 Some may be able to hunt down that 13th century volcanic culprit, while others could identify what else may be moving the zone. Robin George Andrews, National Geographic, "The ghosts of ancient hurricanes live in Caribbean blue holes," 11 Nov. 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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Time Traveler for culprit

Time Traveler

The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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Last Updated

1 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 9 December 2019.

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More Definitions for culprit


How to pronounce culprit (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for culprit

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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