principal

adjective
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)

principal

noun
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

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Other Words from principal

Adjective

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

Noun

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

Principle vs. Principal: Usage Guide

Adjective

Although nearly every handbook and many dictionaries warn against confusing principle and principal, many people still do. Principle is only a noun; principal is both adjective and noun. If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.

Principle vs. Principal

Yes, these two words are confusing; we see evidence of the misuse of both in newspapers and books which have been overseen by professional editors, so don’t feel bad if you have trouble with them. Principle only functions as a noun (such as “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption”); if you want it to be an adjective you must use the word principled. Principal, on the other hand, may function as a noun (such as the head of a school) or as an adjective (meaning “most important”). 

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Amy Abernethy, the agency’s principal deputy commissioner, said that more than half of women over 40 have dense breasts,... Thomas M. Burton, WSJ, "FDA Proposes New Mammography Rule," 27 Mar. 2019 Jonathan Stafford, a ballet master and former principal dancer with the company, has been named its artistic director, company officials announced Thursday. Charles Passy, WSJ, "New York City Ballet Picks New Director in Wake of Scandal," 28 Feb. 2019 There are three principal figures who claim to have invented the machine Collier’s enthused about—and who fought each other for the credit, through battles waged in, primarily, the American media. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "The Lie Detector in the Age of Alternative Facts," 29 Mar. 2018 Karl had already graduated to the building’s magnificent principal block from an only faintly less magnificent set of rooms in an adjoining wing. Hamish Bowles, Vogue, "Hamish Bowles Remembers the Unparalleled Energy, Wicked Wit, and Insatiable Curiosity of Karl Lagerfeld," 20 Feb. 2019 The test can be performed using vaginal, endocervical, or urethral swab, as well as a urine sample, Damon Getman, Ph.D., senior principal research scientist and director of research at Hologic, tells SELF. Claire Gillespie, SELF, "The FDA Just Approved the First Test for Mycoplasma Genitalium, a Commonly Misdiagnosed STI," 1 Feb. 2019 But for Shahab Karmely—owner and CEO of KAR Properties and the principal developer of the boutique property 2000 Ocean—luxury means more than just a high-rise plopped down on a private beach. Samantha Swenson, ELLE Decor, "Just Outside Miami, New Development 2000 Ocean Is Redefining Luxury, One Minotti Furnishing at a Time," 18 Jan. 2019 Many have seen New York City Ballet’s principal dancer Tiler Peck sashay across the stages of Lincoln Center, Broadway, and beyond. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, "Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia Pas de Deux at a Benefit for the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation," 22 Jan. 2019 The current principal deputy press secretary is Raj Shah, but he is expected to leave the job soon, having helped shepherd the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and handling other special projects. Alex Leary, WSJ, "White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Gets New Principal Deputy," 16 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

In clinical trials of women with moderate to severe postpartum depression, most women saw improvements within the first day, says Dr. Meltzer-Brody, the principal investigator for the trials. Macaela Mackenzie, Glamour, "The New Postpartum Depression Drug Zulresso Comes With a Catch," 20 Mar. 2019 First, there was Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, the sassy Texas football coach’s wife turned high school principal. Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "In Dirty John, Connie Britton Brings a Cautionary Tale to Life—And According to Her, the Timing’s Never Been Better to Talk About Con Men," 23 Nov. 2018 The principal is in the process of reviewing that decision. Avery Matera, Teen Vogue, "A Student Was Reportedly Reprimanded for Wearing a Shirt That Showed Marilyn Monroe’s Shoulders," 12 Nov. 2018 The first principal was a 31-year-old high school English teacher with no administrative experience. Abigail Higgins, Vox, "How the “white-savior industrial complex” failed Liberia’s girls," 24 Oct. 2018 The school serves 34 students between the ages of eight and 21 with special needs from five Maryland counties, most of whom have been diagnosed with autism, said the school’s principal, Mark Rapaport. Leah Brennan, baltimoresun.com, "Towson school begins fundraising for outdoor space designed for students with special needs," 10 July 2018 The school’s principal was one of the three taken into custody after police encountered the incident on a roadside in southwestern Ogun state, the BBC reports. Casey Quackenbush, Time, "Nigerian Students Reportedly Tied to Crosses and Flogged for Being Late to School," 18 May 2018 California authorities continue to investigate the 2017 double slaying of a former elementary school principal and her mother, both of whom were found shot multiple times in the mother’s home, PEOPLE confirms. Christine Pelisek, PEOPLE.com, "Retired Principal and Mom Lay Dead at Home for Days — and Police Say They May Have Known the Killer," 23 May 2018 Growing up as the eldest child of a school principal, Charles was always challenged to do his best. Orlando Sentinel, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Deaths in Central Florida: 5/13," 13 May 2018

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.

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First Known Use of principal

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

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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Statistics for principal

Last Updated

26 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for principal

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

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More Definitions for principal

principal

noun

Financial Definition of principal

What It Is

In finance,  principal refers to the face amount of a debt instrument or an amount of money borrowed.

How It Works

For example, if you borrow $25,000 from XYZ Bank to purchase a car, the principal balance is $25,000. As time goes by and you make payments on the loan, the principal balance goes down.

For bonds, principal generally refers to the bond's face value or the par value. Thus, a bond with a $10,000 face value represents a $10,000 loan to the issuer (i.e., $10,000 of principal). It is usually equal to the amount the bondholder receives on the bond's maturity date.

Why It Matters

Interest oThe definition of principal on InvestingAnswersn any loan, bond or not, typically accrues on the outstanding principal balance. That is, the lower the principal outstanding, the less total interest the lender earns.

Source: Investing Answers

principal

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of principal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: most important

principal

noun

English Language Learners Definition of principal (Entry 2 of 2)

US : the person in charge of a public school
British : the person in charge of a university or college
: an amount of money that is put in a bank or lent to someone and that can earn interest

principal

adjective
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

principal

noun

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

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principal

adjective
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

principal

noun

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

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