principal

1 of 2

adjective

prin·​ci·​pal ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl How to pronounce principal (audio)
-sə-bəl
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)
principally
ˈprin(t)-sə-p(ə-)lē How to pronounce principal (audio)
-sə-bə-lē
-splē
adverb
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.

principal

2 of 2

noun

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

Example Sentences

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
In it, the principal dancer Calvin Royal III is joined by the corps de ballet members Erica Lall, Courtney Lavine, Melvin Lawovi and Jose Sebastian. Gia Kourlas, New York Times, 28 Oct. 2022 Other leadership changes include Henry Dieu, the company’s current VP, and the corporate controller is now the principal accounting officer. Sheryl Estrada, Fortune, 17 Oct. 2022 Netflix’s recently hired principal accounting officer, former EA finance exec Ken Barker, has resigned after about three months on the job. Todd Spangler, Variety, 23 Sep. 2022 The home goods retailer said in a regulatory filing that Crossen will continue as its principal accounting officer while serving in the interim role. Michelle Chapman, Chicago Tribune, 6 Sep. 2022 In his new role, Mr. Barker serves as Netflix’s principal accounting officer, a role previously held by CFO Spencer Neumann, who continues to serve as the company’s top finance officer, the filing said. Kristin Broughton, WSJ, 5 Sep. 2022 Current data that tracks the number of payday loans has yet to be released, but based on past trends there is likely an increase in borrowing, said Alex Horowitz, principal officer for Pew’s consumer finance project. Nicole Goodkind, CNN, 23 June 2022 The Wall Street analyst also commented on the late Monday appointment of Ken Barker as principal accounting officer at Netflix. Georg Szalai, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 June 2022 After Senate Republicans and Democrats refused to confirm Rizzuto Jr. as ambassador to Barbados, Trump named him principal officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Bermuda, which didn’t require Senate confirmation. Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-Journal, 10 May 2022
Noun
Jane, 53, claimed he is now owed $137,000 in principal, $9,814.79 in interest (as of Nov. 8) and $2,291.85 in late charges, according to the court filing. Stephanie Wenger, Peoplemag, 21 Nov. 2022 That data is for outstanding principal and interest balances. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, 11 Nov. 2022 Colorado resident Sarah Gerber is currently experiencing this reality and has decided to slow down on repayment of mortgage principal and instead direct cash to her high-yield savings accounts. Mia Taylor, Fortune, 11 Nov. 2022 Would it be unexpected for a teacher, the principal or the superintendent of schools to ask the student to remove the item? Jim Masters, Chicago Tribune, 11 Nov. 2022 The first is credit risk, or the likelihood that interest and principal won’t be repaid. Ari I. Weinberg, WSJ, 6 Nov. 2022 Santiago Arana has been with The Agency since 2014, joining as principal and partner specializing in high-end residential real estate and new construction. Kelly Allen, House Beautiful, 4 Nov. 2022 The School Board of Palm Beach County, the School District of Palm Beach County, Emerald Cove Middle School, as well as the middle school’s principal and a teacher are listed as defendants in the case. Emma Colton, Fox News, 27 Oct. 2022 The average purchase in the current market would cost you $1.11 million in principal and interest over the course of a 30-year mortgage with 20% down. Q.ai - Powering A Personal Wealth Movement, Forbes, 9 Oct. 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.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Noun

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

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near principal

Cite this Entry

“Principal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/principal. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

principal 1 of 2

adjective

prin·​ci·​pal ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl How to pronounce principal (audio)
-sə-bəl
: most important : chief
the principal ingredient of the stew
principally
-ē How to pronounce principal (audio)
prin(t)-splē
adverb

principal

2 of 2

noun

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

Legal Definition

principal 1 of 2

adjective

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

2 of 2

noun

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

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