Principal vs Principle

The words principal and principle are often confused by English speakers. Read this lesson to learn the principles of the principal meanings.


As a noun, principal can be a person, such as the head of a school or other organization, or the primary participant in a crime.

I got sent to the principal’s office.

Our company’s principals meet once a month.

Have they arrested the principal in the assassination plot?

Principal can also refer to the original sum of money that has been invested.

The interest isn’t enough to live on, I have to start withdrawing from the principal.

As an adjective, principal means "primary" or "most important":

Gambia’s principal export is peanuts.

Who is the principal dancer?


Principle is an inanimate noun that refers to natural or man-made laws and rules.

1. Rule of conduct, whether moral or institutional

I live by a single principle: be kind.

Honesty is one of the founding principles of our company.

He is a man of principle.

2. Fundamental quality or idea, essence

Can you teach me the principles of quantum physics?

The principles behind this machinery are fascinating.

It’s a good idea, in principle.

The Bottom Line

Despite their similar pronunciation, principal and principle are completely different. Principal is an adjective, a person, or a sum of money, while principle is an idea. In principle, if you’re talking about someting intangible, the word you need is principle. Otherwise, your pal is principal.

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