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 Jin and his fellow co-principal investigator, Case medical school professor Bingcheng Wang, believe HIV + immune cells release nanoparticles that assault the lungs, and lead to lung cancer. Mary Kilpatrick, cleveland, "Case Western Reserve University researchers work to understand link between HIV and lung cancer," 10 July 2020 Several of the rookie volunteers at Friday’s giveaway came from Northside Independent School District, including a contingent from Warren High School organized by principal Valerie Sisk that included several student council officers. Tom Orsborn, ExpressNews.com, "San Antonio Food Bank sees ‘major uptick’ in volunteers after putting out urgent need for help," 10 July 2020 Recognizing this, many regulators have enacted or are now contemplating supervisory measures aimed at inquiring into firm culture as a principal source of conduct risk. Stephen Scott, Fortune, "The coronavirus crisis is increasing the risk of bank fraud. Here’s how banks can play defense," 7 July 2020 That mess forms the principal subject of Katherine Eban’s disquieting, often unnerving, and at times infuriating new book. Daniel J. Kevles, The New York Review of Books, "The Scandal of Our Drug Supply," 6 July 2020 The school’s mascot will still be the Warriors, and its red, black and silver colors will remain, principal Marlene Roddy said in a letter to parents and students Wednesday. Brayden Garcia, Dallas News, "Arlington Martin High School will no longer use Native American headdress logo," 3 July 2020 Republicans are eyeing a total package of around $1 trillion, while Democrats want closer to $4 trillion, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst at tax researcher Wolters Kluwer. Russ Wiles, The Arizona Republic, "Some Arizonans wait anxiously for more coronavirus financial help with expanded federal benefits set to expire," 12 July 2020 Eric Prendergast, principal investigator of archaeological consultancy Cardno, is leading the project to uncover the Zion Cemetery, which is beneath part of Robles Park Village, a public housing development. Fox News, "Historic Black cemetery that was 'purposefully erased' during Jim Crow uncovered," 9 July 2020 In a recent ranking of billionaires, the magazine also estimated principal owner John Henry’s net worth at $2.6 billion. Michael Rezendes, Houston Chronicle, "Red Sox dogged by claims of racism, sexual abuse," 7 July 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The group includes a business consultant and an assistant principal at a high school. Anna Kuchment, Dallas News, "How Latino residents in Dallas’ hardest hit ZIP code are weathering COVID-19," 11 July 2020 Replacing Kait Turner, who is moving to a new position with the district, Foote said becoming a principal was always a personal goal. John Benson, cleveland, "Lakewood City School District names Christine Foote as new Grant Elementary School Principal," 10 July 2020 Tanya Spaulding, principal at Shea Inc., a full-service restaurant design firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently told CNN Business that to entice customers, restaurants should clear their tables of anything that could be seen as unhygienic. Danielle Wiener-bronner, CNN, "Ketchup and mustard packets are pandemic best-sellers. That's bad news for the environment," 1 July 2020 Wadkins was most recently a vice principal at Lincoln High under Peyton Chapman. oregonlive, "Cleveland High has a new principal, its third since last May," 30 June 2020 New York City education officials are investigating a Staten Island assistant principal after a statement about privilege, taking aim at people who receive government assistance or are unemployed, was posted to her Facebook page. NBC News, "N.Y.C. officials probe Staten Island assistant principal's Facebook post decried as racist," 23 June 2020 Kyle Strigenz, a principal with HKS Holdings LLC, the developer of the project, said HKS Holdings is a small business. Evan Casey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "An upscale hotel in Wauwatosa just received a $300,000 matching forgivable loan from the city," 18 June 2020 Watson was previously a principal at Lewis & Clark Ventures. Lucinda Shen, Fortune, "A coronavirus vaccine maker is seeking an IPO. It’s bogged down in geopolitical tensions," 16 June 2020 Gardner previously worked at Greater Clark County Schools for nearly 30 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. David J. Kim, The Courier-Journal, "Interim superintendent of new Southern Indiana school district shares plans for the year," 9 July 2020

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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Time Traveler for principal

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for principal

Last Updated

30 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Principal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/principal. Accessed 3 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for principal

principal

adjective
How to pronounce principal (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of principal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: most important

principal

noun
How to pronounce principal (audio)

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

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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