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.

Keep scrolling for more

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 Do not just assume the cat has acne as other conditions such as mange, fungal infections or even tumors could be the culprit. Traci Howerton,, "Cat acne -- yes, it's a thing, and it may require treatment by a vet," 12 Jan. 2021 When your hair isn’t the culprit, your diet may be. Brooklyn White, Essence, "What Do Different Facial Breakouts Mean?," 24 Dec. 2020 President Trump has the cyber-espionage campaign, suggesting China could be the culprit, but top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr, have pointed fingers at Russia. Caitlin Yilek, CBS News, ""Dozens" of top Treasury email accounts hacked, senator says," 22 Dec. 2020 Thanksgiving alone is not the culprit, as cases were clearly rising in early November. Whet Moser, The Atlantic, "California Has Lost Control," 21 Dec. 2020 One prevailing theory is that herpes simplex virus may be the culprit. Miriam Fauzia, USA TODAY, "Fact check: Bell's palsy among COVID-19 trial participants likely unrelated to Pfizer vaccine," 15 Dec. 2020 Climate change has also been named as one possible culprit for the mass die-off that caused an unusually high number of whale fatalities last year, when more than a dozen carcasses washed up on Bay Area shores. Nora Mishanec,, "With classic lookouts closed, here are the best Bay Area spots to catch migrating gray whales," 2 Jan. 2021 Although the economy is largely the culprit for the lower demand, other factors are also at play. Suzanne Vranica, WSJ, "Super Bowl Advertisers Gravitate to Humor in a Hard Time," 23 Dec. 2020 The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI have not publicly said who was behind the attacks, but a number of cybersecurity experts have flagged Russia as the likely culprit. William Cummings, USA TODAY, "'Extraordinary': Mitt Romney slams White House 'silence and inaction' in response to cyberattack," 18 Dec. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about culprit

Time Traveler for culprit

Time Traveler

The first known use of culprit was in 1678

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about culprit

Statistics for culprit

Last Updated

19 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on culprit

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!