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principal or principle?

What Is the Difference between "principal" and "principle"?

homeconfused wordsprincipal or principle?
the quick answer

The Quick Answer

Principal means main.
A principal is the head (of a department).
Principle means general law or code of conduct.

Writers occasionally confuse the words principal and principle.

Principal

In its most common role, principal is an adjective meaning main or key.

Examples:
  • The principal objective is to make a profit.
  • (The adjective principal modifies the noun objective.)
    (principal = main or key)
  • The inspector highlighted my principal concern in his opening sentence.
  • (principal = main or key)

The word principal can also be noun mean head or chief. It is commonly used to denote head teacher in the US.
  • Here comes the principal. 
  • (principal = head teacher)
  • The allegations against the former principal were that he not only allowed the cage fights to take place, but he also he egged on the participants.

Principle

The word principle is a noun. It has a range of meanings, including rule, belief, tenet and theory.  In general, principle offers the idea of general law or code of conduct.
  • No! It is against my principles!
  • That is a great idea in principle.
  • Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others. (Groucho Marx quotation)
  • You could strengthen your argument by appealing to more general
    principles.
  • He applied the Aufbau principal to determine the electron configuration of the silicon.
  • (should be principle / principle = theory or general law)

A Quick Test

hot grammar tip

Hot Tip

A1 

If you imagine that the l on the end of principal looks like a 1, then the last two letters become A1.  This may help you to remember that principal denotes the most important or main.
  • My principal concern is the safety of the dove.
  • (my A1 concern, i.e., main concern)
  • You can explain your absence to the principal.
  • (to the A1, i.e., the most important person in the department)
teachers note

A Note from Teacher

PRINCIPAL AND MONEY 

When referring to a loan, the principal (or principal sum) is the original amount of a debt or investment on which interest is calculated.


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