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

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Principle vs. Principal: Usage Guide

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 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
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Recent Examples on the Web

Get our daily newsletter The IIF principles are voluntary and would apply only to lending from the private sector, not from states. The Economist, "How to stop governments borrowing behind their people’s backs," 13 June 2019 Behind the common action that fateful morning were common principles. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Europe and America Seventy-Five Years After D Day," 6 June 2019 And principles are something that YouTube lately has had far too much trouble demonstrating. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Three ways YouTube could fight harassment," 6 June 2019 These principles were very different from those we were used to hearing from the party. Helen Raleigh, National Review, "Thirty Years after Tiananmen, China Is Still Unwilling to Tell the Truth," 4 June 2019 One such principle is that every American deserves legal representation, and a corollary is that lawyers don’t have to agree with their clients to represent them. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Josh Hawley’s Legal Principles," 30 May 2019 The organizing principle around a story, the container that creates the form, is the limitation, the open space at the beginning and at the end; the sense that the entire thing must take a form—the text—with eternal open space before and afterward. David Means, Harper's magazine, "A writer alone with the work," 10 Apr. 2019 This custom is not driven entirely by principle, but also by a sense that such criticism is ineffectual: The Journal reports: Before Mr. Trump, the last president to publicly call for lower interest rates was George H.W. Bush. James Freeman, WSJ, "Trump Fears the Fed," 18 Oct. 2018 Shortly after the draft, Robinson agreed in principle to join Miami's summer-league team. Chris Nelsen, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan's Duncan Robinson answers call for Miami Heat summer team," 28 June 2018

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.

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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

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Learn More about principle

Statistics for principle

Last Updated

17 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for principle

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

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More Definitions for principle

principle

noun

English Language Learners Definition of principle

: 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

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

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Comments on principle

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