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 The culprit, of course, is the seedless watermelon. Paul Cappiello, The Courier-Journal, "An ode to watermelon. Why it's the best summer fruit. And if you don't agree, you're wrong," 3 July 2020 The culprit is reportedly the northwest winds hitting the bridge's sidewalk railings that have recently been installed in a retrofitting. Fox News, "Golden Gate Bridge makes ‘screeching’ sound some say caused physiological distress: report," 3 July 2020 The culprit wasn’t the flooding from Maria’s deluge or the fire that broke out inside her washer/dryer during the hurricane. USA Today, "Hurricane fallout creates financial ruin for Puerto Rico's seniors with reverse mortgages," 2 July 2020 However, neither of these is the culprit behind the increase in fireworks usage this year. Jay L. Zagorsky, The Conversation, "Why are so many people lighting off fireworks?," 30 June 2020 The not-so-secret culprit driving the spiraling affordability crisis that working people face is crushing student loan debt. Randi Weingarten, Fortune, "Student debt is making it harder to defeat the coronavirus," 25 June 2020 Chief Superintendent Russ Procter with Lancashire police confirmed an investigation has been launched to find the culprit. NBC News, "'Ashamed and embarrassed': English soccer club reacts after 'White Lives Matter' banner flown over stadium," 23 June 2020 Health officials feared the culprit might be something nobody had ever seen. National Geographic, "On the hunt for the next deadly virus," 16 June 2020 The primary culprit for the sluggish activity was the lack of homes available due to the pandemic; sellers were wary of spreading COVID-19, and buyers were worried about catching it. Agya K. Aning, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Metro Milwaukee homes sales in May tumble 25% compared with last year," 19 June 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

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The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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Last Updated

5 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Culprit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jul. 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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