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 Another likely culprit keeping prices low is the Trump administration's move in March to allow the sale of cheaper, if less environmentally sound, winter gasoline after May 1. Khristopher J. Brooks, CBS News, "Gas prices are at their lowest level since 2016," 13 May 2020 The flying mammals are a likely culprit in the pandemic now sweeping the globe, and Dr. Shi and her laboratories in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified, have attracted suspicion. James T. Areddy, WSJ, "China Bat Expert Says Her Wuhan Lab Wasn’t Source of New Coronavirus," 21 Apr. 2020 By the time PEDv was identified as the likely culprit, the pathogen had started to spread east and west. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, "A Coronavirus Spread Through U.S. Pigs in 2013. Here’s How It Was Stopped," 10 Apr. 2020 Giant tortoise species had seen the worst depopulation on the Galapagos Islands, and feral goats are the likely culprit. NBC News, "Giant tortoise who helped save species retires in Galapagos Islands," 15 Jan. 2020 Federal officials would pinpoint the most likely culprit as vitamin E acetate in vaping products with illicit THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Author: Josh Dawsey, Laurie Mcginley, Anchorage Daily News, "Fearing backlash, Trump pulls back from ban on e-cigarette flavors," 19 Nov. 2019 All that screen time can do more than just strain your eyes—the blue light emitted from our devices is the sneakiest culprit of skin damage. Katie Intner, Harper's BAZAAR, "Staring at Your Phone Could Be Messing With Your Skin," 27 Apr. 2020 Oxidation is the culprit for corrosion, and therefore, rust. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, "In the Near Future, Robots Will Eat Metal for Energy," 17 Apr. 2020 Now, nearly four decades later, researchers have used new evidence to home in on a probable culprit: the auroras sparking across Saturn’s north and south poles, according to a study published this week in Nature Astronomy. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, "Saturn’s Auroras Could Help Explain the Weird Amounts of Heat in Its Atmosphere," 8 Apr. 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.

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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

18 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 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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