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 Chicago is on high alert for coyotes after two reports of the typically reclusive animals attacking humans, possibly for the first time in the state - and officials may have the culprit. Hannah Knowles, Anchorage Daily News, "Coyotes may have attacked Chicagoans twice this week after years of leaving people alone," 10 Jan. 2020 When asked if Las Vegas has any indication or suspicion that the cyberattack might be connected to Iran, Riggleman reiterated that the city does not know who was responsible but said the city is looking for potential clues to the culprit. Washington Post, "Las Vegas says no data stolen in cyber attack on city system," 8 Jan. 2020 And comedian Tiffany Haddish is Queen Bey’s latest culprit. Nandi Howard, Essence, "Here's The Custom Suit Beyonce Gifted Tiffany Haddish," 2 Jan. 2020 Next time, the culprits will almost certainly be jittery businesses, deRitis and Swonk say. Paul Davidson, USA TODAY, "If a recession hits next year, it would probably be mild. But a recovery would also be tame.," 30 Dec. 2019 The Occam’s razor culprit is the onset of trade war, and now comes new economic evidence to back that up. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "How Tariffs Hurt Manufacturing," 30 Dec. 2019 But the bad play returned with Blake Griffin once again the main culprit. Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Pistons suffer season high in points allowed vs. San Antonio, 136-109," 29 Dec. 2019 Just like microplastic pollution in water, our clothes appear to be a primary culprit. Marc Bain, Quartz, "Clothing could be to blame for the number of microplastics in our air," 28 Dec. 2019 Possible culprits include deficiencies in certain compounds necessary for heart health, as well as diets with exotic ingredients. Linda Carroll, NBC News, "'It's not going away': Vets still seeing cases of dog heart problems linked to grain-free food," 27 Dec. 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

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The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 24 January 2020.

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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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a feeling of well-being or elation

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