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

Workers’ rights groups have zeroed in on the tipped minimum wage as one culprit in America’s growing income inequality. Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox, "DC repealed a ballot measure giving restaurant workers a raise. But it might be back.," 12 Dec. 2018 You are given the responsibility of, after having just been subjected to devastating trauma, navigating impossible protocols, lest you be charged as the culprit in your own attack. Amandla Stenberg, Teen Vogue, "Amandla Stenberg Writes About Her Sexual Assaults," 6 Oct. 2018 The biggest culprit is Germany, Europe's richest nation and Trump's favorite target for anger. Michael Birnbaum,, "Ahead of summit, allies wonder: Will NATO survive Trump?," 9 July 2018 The biggest culprit is Germany, Europe’s richest nation and Trump’s favorite target for anger. Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, "Ahead of NATO summit, allies wonder: Will NATO survive Trump?," 8 July 2018 Seams in leggings or shorts can often be the biggest culprits of friction and chafing in the thighs. Louise Green, SELF, "5 Tips for Avoiding Inner-Thigh Chafing This Summer," 5 July 2018 Perhaps unsurprisingly to regular listeners of the morning radio traffic roundups, the Beltway is the biggest culprit. Colin Campbell,, "'The traffic is horrible': Baltimore commute ranks among nation's longest," 18 June 2018 But perhaps the biggest culprit is that The Last Jedi came out five months ago. David Sims, The Atlantic, "With Solo, Has Star Wars Fatigue Set In?," 29 May 2018 Upholstered furniture, with its highly flammable foam padding, are the biggest culprit in house fires that get out of control, according to a spokesperson for the National Association Of State Fire Marshals. Candace Braun Davison, House Beautiful, "These Popular Home Trends Can Be A Huge Fire Hazard," 29 May 2018

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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Statistics for culprit

Last Updated

10 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for culprit

The first known use of culprit was in 1678

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More Definitions for culprit



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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with culprit

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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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