principle

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

Definition of principle

1a : 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
3a : 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: 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 principle in a Sentence

Urban guerrilla warfare was futile against a thermonuclear superstate that would stop at nothing to defend the profit principle. — Philip Roth, American Pastoral, 1997 Better, of course, to take a higher road, operate on the principle of service and see if things don't turn out better … — Richard Ford, Independence Day, 1995 Pointlessness was life's principle, and it spread its sadness. — Arthur Miller, Timebends, 1987 His investment strategy is based on the principle that the stock market offers the best returns for long-term investors. the basic principles of hydraulics
Recent Examples on the Web Harvard privileged the students’ complaints over that principle of legal defense which has been a pillar of American legal practice. Michael Poliakoff, Forbes, 3 Aug. 2022 That saying encapsulates Democrats’ entire strategy in Republican primary campaigns, one that trades principle and devotion to American democracy for political expediency. Charles Hilu, National Review, 3 Aug. 2022 Now, the Biden administration wants that same principle to apply to pregnant women facing serious health problems that could require terminating their pregnancies. Devlin Barrett, Washington Post, 2 Aug. 2022 But the hearings also repeatedly made clear that this was not about an abstract principle or a bad thing that happened in the past. New York Times, 22 July 2022 Whether it’s principle or opportunism, Calvert’s change of heart seems a necessary shift in a race that has grown far more competitive as a result of the redrawing of California’s congressional boundaries. Laura Blasey, Los Angeles Times, 15 July 2022 And this case is definitely going to stand, alongside a bunch of other cases that have been decided this term, for that principle. Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 30 June 2022 Here, the court has violated that founding principle by requiring Maine to tax citizens to fund religious schools. Devin Dwyer, ABC News, 21 June 2022 Applying that principle to one tree specifically is a special way to start cultivating a more intimate connection with nature, Kuang says. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, 8 June 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of principle

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for principle

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

Learn More About principle

Time Traveler for principle

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near principle

principium

principle

principled

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for principle

Last Updated

16 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Principle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/principle. Accessed 18 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for principle

principle

noun
prin·​ci·​ple | \ ˈprin-sə-pəl How to pronounce principle (audio) \

Kids Definition of principle

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

principle

noun
prin·​ci·​ple | \ ˈprin(t)-sə-pəl How to pronounce principle (audio) \

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

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!