principle

noun prin·ci·ple \ ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl , -sə-bəl \
Updated on: 12 Nov 2017

Definition of principle

1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
b (1) : a rule or code of conduct
(2) : habitual devotion to right principles
  • a man of principle
c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device
2 : a primary source : origin
3 a : an underlying faculty or endowment
  • such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity
b : an ingredient (such as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality
4 capitalized, Christian Science : a divine principle : god
in principle
: with respect to fundamentals
  • prepared to accept the proposition in principle

principle vs. principal

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.


Examples of principle in a Sentence

  1. Urban guerrilla warfare was futile against a thermonuclear superstate that would stop at nothing to defend the profit principle. —Philip RothAmerican Pastoral1997
  2. Better, of course, to take a higher road, operate on the principle of service and see if things don't turn out better … —Richard FordIndependence Day1995
  3. Pointlessness was life's principle, and it spread its sadness. —Arthur MillerTimebends1987
  4. His investment strategy is based on the principle that the stock market offers the best returns for long-term investors.

  5. the basic principles of hydraulics

Recent Examples of principle from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of principle

Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at prince



PRINCIPLE Defined for English Language Learners

principle

noun

Definition of principle for English Language Learners

  • : a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions

  • : a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something

  • : a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens


PRINCIPLE Defined for Kids

principle

noun prin·ci·ple \ ˈprin-sə-pəl \

Definition of principle for Students

1 : a general or basic truth on which other truths or theories can be based
  • scientific principles
2 : a rule of conduct based on beliefs of what is right and wrong
3 : a law or fact of nature which makes possible the working of a machine or device
  • the principle of magnetism

Medical Dictionary

principle

noun prin·ci·ple \ ˈprin(t)-sə-pəl \

medical Definition of principle

1 : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
2 : an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality
  • the active principle of a drug


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