• Principal


    • IPA: /ˈprɪnsɪpəl/, /ˈprɪnsəpəl/
    • US IPA: /ˈprɪnsɪbəl/, /ˈprɪnsəbəl/
    • Hyphenation: prin + ci + pal
    • Homophones: principle

    Alternative forms


    From Latin principalis.

    Full definition of principal



    1. Primary; most important.Smith is the principal architect of this design.The principal cause of the failure was poor planning.
    2. (obsolete, Latinism) Of or relating to a prince; princely.

    Usage notes

    Principal should not be confused with principle. Principle is always a noun, meaning "moral rule", which is sometimes erroneously used with the meaning of the adjective principal.

    Incorrect: He is the principle musician in the band

    Correct: He is the principal musician in the band

    A mnemonic to avoid this confusion is "The principal alphabetic principle places A before E".

    Principal is generally not used in the comparative or superlative in formal writing, as the meaning is already superlative. However, one may occasionally see, e.g., more principal meaning more likely to be principal or more nearly principal. There are similar issues with unique.


    Related terms



    (countable and uncountable; plural principals)
    1. (finance, uncountable) The money originally invested or loaned, on which basis interest and returns are calculated.A portion of your mortgage payment goes to reduce the principal, and the rest covers interest.
    2. (North America, Australia, New Zealand) The chief administrator of a school.
    3. (UK, Scotland, Canada) The chief executive and chief academic officer of a university or college.
    4. (legal) One who directs another (the agent) to act on one′s behalf.''When an attorney represents a client, the client is the principal who permits the attorney, the client′s agent, to act on the client′s behalf.
    5. (legal) The primary participant in a crime.
    6. A company represented by a salesperson.My principal sells metal shims.
    7. (partner or owner) (North America) A partner or owner of a business.
    8. (music) A diapason, a type of organ stop on a pipe organ.
    9. (architecture, engineering) The construction that gives shape and strength to a roof, generally a truss of timber or iron; or, loosely, the most important member of a piece of framing.
    10. The first two long feathers of a hawk's wing.
    11. One of the turrets or pinnacles of waxwork and tapers with which the posts and centre of a funeral hearse were formerly crowned.
    12. (obsolete) An essential point or rule; a principle.

    Usage notes

    Principal should not be confused with principle. They are both nouns, but principle means "moral rule", while principal may refer to a person or entity.

    Incorrect: He is the principle of our school

    Correct: He is the principal of our school


    • (original money invested or loaned)
    • (school administrator) headmaster, headmistress
    • (chief executive and chief academic officer of a university or college) dean
    • (one under whose direction and on whose behalf an agent acts) client
    • (company represented by a salesperson)
    • (primary participant in a crime) ringleader
    • (owner of or partner in a business) proprietor
    • (organ stop) diapason

    Coordinate terms

    • (original money invested or loaned) interest
    • (school administrator) master, mistress
    • (chief executive and chief academic officer of a university or college) bursar
    • (primary participant in a crime) accessory

    Related terms

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