prin·​ci·​pal | \ ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl How to pronounce principal (audio) , -sə-bəl \

Definition of principal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : most important, consequential, or influential : chief the principal ingredient the region's principal city
2 : of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal (see principal entry 2)


prin·​ci·​pal | \ ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl How to pronounce principal (audio) , -sə-bəl \

Definition of principal (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position: such as
a : a chief or head man or woman
b : the chief executive officer of an educational institution
c : one who engages another to act as an agent subject to general control and instruction specifically : the person from whom an agent's authority derives
d : the chief or an actual participant in a crime
e : the person primarily or ultimately liable on a legal obligation
f : a leading performer : star
2 : a matter or thing of primary importance: such as
a(1) : a capital sum earning interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund
(2) : the corpus of an estate, portion, devise, or bequest
b : the construction that gives shape and strength to a roof and is usually one of several trusses broadly : the most important member of a piece of framing

Other Words from principal


principally \ ˈprin(t)-​sə-​p(ə-​)lē How to pronounce principal (audio) , -​sə-​bə-​lē , -​splē \ adverb


principalship \ ˈprin(t)-​s(ə-​)pəl-​ˌship How to pronounce principal (audio) , -​sə-​bəl-​ \ noun

Principle vs. Principal: Usage Guide


Evidence of confusion between principle and principal can be found even in publications overseen by professional editors. To keep these words straight, remember that principle functions only as a noun, and in its most common uses refers to a basic rule or law, as in a guiding principle or a matter of principle. If you are looking for an adjective form of this word, you must use principled, as in taking a principled stand. Principal functions as both a noun and an adjective. The noun has various meanings referring to someone with controlling authority the school principal or in a leading position the ballet's two principals , but also has meanings relating to finance, law, and architecture. As an adjective, principal typically means "most important," as in the principal reason.

Examples of principal in a Sentence

Adjective If any suspect that Griswold was exaggerating, they should reflect on the fact that the principal Supreme Court case justifying the invocation of the national security privilege was based on a governmental lie. — Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009 Following the agreement, the four principal tobacco companies—Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard—raised their prices more than 45 cents per pack. The costs of the settlement, as predicted, were passed on to consumers. — Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, 2007 Their principal industry was the manufacture, in a long, low, mostly-wooden, two-story factory, of cold cream. — Frederick Busch, Too Late American Boyhood Blues, 1984 Vegetables are the principal ingredients in this soup. She is the principal cellist of the orchestra. Noun the new high school principal One of the principals in the assassination plot has been arrested. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Measuring productions in terms of films starting principal photography, receiving public funding or being certified, 2021 production activity often exceeded its pre-pandemic levels, the report announces. John Hopewell, Variety, 12 May 2022 The musical director will be the multi-award winning composer, Debbie Wiseman, whilst the principal director for music will be Lieutenant Colonel Jason Burcham RM. Alex Ritman, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Apr. 2022 April 2005 - Is appointed principal deputy director of national intelligence. CNN, 2 Mar. 2022 The interest rate on that mortgage would have been 3.11 percent, and your monthly interest and principal payments would have been $1,710. Washington Post, 6 May 2022 Applicants must present four documents to verify identity/date of birth, Social Security number and address of principal residence. Leada Gore |, al, 5 May 2022 Harry Sempeles was promoted to associate principal/senior project manager at C.T. Hsu + Associates, Orlando. Joe Rassel, Orlando Sentinel, 5 May 2022 The film had reportedly completed about half of its principal photography before production was suspended in mid-April. J. Kim Murphy, Variety, 30 Apr. 2022 French President Emmanuel Macron has been a principal interlocutor of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Kevin Deering is currently the principal of John Long Middle School in the Grafton School District. Alec Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 17 May 2022 Matthieu Gombeaud is a principal at BCG and ambassador at the BCG Henderson Institute. Matthieu Gombeaud, Fortune, 6 May 2022 Higa was last principal at Cherokee Point Elementary. Kristen Taketa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1 May 2022 About five years ago, volunteer Gina Schmitz, who also happened to be the principal of Glendale Landmark School at the time, came up with a solution. Lane Sainty, The Arizona Republic, 28 Apr. 2022 An article on Page 11 this weekend about redesigning libraries to include outdoor spaces misidentifies the architecture firm where Annie Barrett is a principal. New York Times, 24 Apr. 2022 Glynn, who is now a principal at EY-Parthenon, did not return telephone calls or emails seeking comment. Washington Post, 19 Apr. 2022 Jackson’s father, Johnny Brown, was an attorney for the Miami-Dade school board, and her mother, Ellery Jackson, was the principal of New World School of the Arts in the school district. Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2022 The out-of-state company then wired the funds to Maziv Entertainment LLC., of which Petrone is a principal, according to the DOJ. Fox News, 1 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'principal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of principal


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for principal

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin principalis, from princip-, princeps

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Time Traveler for principal

Time Traveler

The first known use of principal was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near principal



principal boy

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Statistics for principal

Last Updated

20 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Principal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for principal


prin·​ci·​pal | \ ˈprin-sə-pəl How to pronounce principal (audio) \

Kids Definition of principal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: highest in rank or importance : chief My sister had the principal part in the school play.

Other Words from principal

principally adverb



Kids Definition of principal (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the head of a school
2 : a leading or most important person or thing
3 : a sum of money that is placed to earn interest, is owed as a debt, or is used as a fund


prin·​ci·​pal | \ ˈprin-sə-pəl How to pronounce principal (audio) \

Legal Definition of principal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : being the main or most important, consequential, or influential their principal place of business the principal obligor
2 : of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal the principal amount of the loan



Legal Definition of principal (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a participant in an action or transaction especially having control or authority the principals of a business : as
a : one who engages another to act for him or her subject to his or her general control or instruction : one from whom an agent derives authority to act — compare fiduciary
b : one who commits a crime or instigates, encourages, or assists another to commit it especially when constructively or actually present — see also accessory sense 1
principal in the first degree
: a principal under common law who intentionally commits and is actually or constructively present at the commission of a crime
principal in the second degree
: a principal under common law who aids, encourages, or commands another to commit a crime and is actually or constructively present when it is committed
c : the person primarily liable on a legal obligation or one who will ultimately bear the burden because of a duty to indemnify another as distinguished from one (as an endorser, surety, or guarantor) who is secondarily liable
2 : a capital sum earning interest, due as a debt, or used as a fund shall receive the income from the trust until age 18, and thereafter the principal payments shall be applied first to interest and then to principal also : the main body of an estate, devise, or bequest

More from Merriam-Webster on principal

Nglish: Translation of principal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of principal for Arabic Speakers


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