Dictionary.com

Principal vs. Principle

Principal Principle

Is the head of a school called a principal or a principle? These two words are frustratingly similar, leaving even the most experienced English speakers to second-guess which word means what. Today, we’ll discuss the distinct meanings between these easy-to-confuse terms and a little trick to help differentiate between your principals and your principles.

A principal is a chief or head, particularly of a school. Principal can also be used as an adjective meaning “first or highest in rank, importance, or value,” as in The principal objective of this article is to teach you the difference between two words. A principle, on the other hand, is “rule of action or conduct” or “a fundamental doctrine or tenet.” Principle is often attached to the word moral, meaning “of, relating to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.”

As you may have guessed, principal and principle are linguistically related. Principal stems from prīncipālis, a word meaning “first, chief.” Principle comes from prīncipium, meaning “beginning, origin, fundamental truth, or basis.” Both terms can ultimately be traced to the Latin word prīmus, meaning “prime; first.”

If you find yourself having trouble choosing between principal and principle, think about the context. Use principal in reference to a person who is in leadership or to describe the importance of something; use principle to refer to a standard, rule, or guiding belief. One popular mnemonic device to remember this difference is the isolation of “pal” from principal. The principal of your school is your “pal.”

83 Comments

  1. Deep -  October 25, 2016 - 3:24 am

    My name is deep

    Reply
  2. Pastor Faith -  July 24, 2016 - 2:40 am

    Faith is a confidence one has in God or in human, that He will definitely do as he said or promised. Faith is a product of the MIND.
    While Believe/Belief is a product of the Spirit.

    Reply
    • Wayne -  July 28, 2016 - 11:44 am

      Faith is a superstition. Superstition is a function of the brain. God is a symptom of this function. There is no god. There is only your brain.

      Reply
      • bongani -  October 21, 2016 - 2:06 am

        where did u come from or should I say the first man came from???

        Reply
      • GloriaRT -  October 21, 2016 - 7:22 am

        Brain… that was make by God. Happy day!

        Reply
      • Marcus -  November 16, 2016 - 5:23 pm

        preach it

        Reply
      • Stewart -  November 20, 2016 - 4:17 am

        I’ve been telling that for years.

        Reply
  3. Ashley L -  July 11, 2016 - 5:27 am

    VERY HELPFUL! THANKS!!

    Reply
    • Jonathan -  July 28, 2016 - 10:42 am

      hey ashley

      Reply
  4. Aman -  March 8, 2016 - 8:33 pm

    Very helpful . helped me much for test. But u could have a little shorten definition.

    Reply
  5. Faith -  February 3, 2016 - 10:44 am

    Frabjous

    Reply
    • Emily -  February 8, 2016 - 5:27 pm

      Hi name is Emily

      Reply
      • Ava -  February 23, 2016 - 2:30 pm

        What is your last name

        Reply
        • Ava -  February 23, 2016 - 2:35 pm

          I have always known that the head of your school is your Principal and……………………………

          Reply
          • Ava -  February 23, 2016 - 2:40 pm

            I can tell the difference and I am only four years old. (JUST KIDDING,J.K.)

        • nael -  March 5, 2016 - 10:53 am

          hi I’m new here to this website my name is nael blanchard

          Reply
      • connor.stillwell -  February 25, 2016 - 8:36 am

        i am looking at you

        Reply
        • connor.stillwell -  February 25, 2016 - 8:37 am

          jk

          Reply
      • Deep -  October 25, 2016 - 3:22 am

        Hi my name is deep

        Reply
    • Jeffer/burt -  May 20, 2016 - 9:22 am

      A lot of people have no idea the difference between believing and having faith if you know the difference explain it thank you

      Reply
      • creative art -  October 5, 2016 - 9:09 am

        believing in anything is actually having faith in it,you can’t believe in anything without faith.faith is the inner power that triggers you to have confidence in the things hoped for,and that state of expectation is believing.

        Reply
  6. Alhaji Aaron Kamara -  February 3, 2016 - 9:44 am

    I really find this useful and i like contextual interpretation. This have unteach me.
    Thanx
    AA

    Reply
    • aj -  May 22, 2016 - 1:03 pm

      U grammar like a boss.

      Reply
  7. Vincent Han -  February 3, 2016 - 1:47 am

    Please do “shall vs. should”, thank you!

    Reply
    • RectalRuin -  February 3, 2016 - 10:03 am

      “Shall” is the archaic version of “should,” its primary usage in either New Age writers wishing to reach fame through their use of Old English, or Old Age linguists who studied it and earned fame through its use. However, the use of “shall” is the more forceful present tense form of “will” in the old texts, and misuse of “shall” would have confused most readers. Use of old English should therefore be studied as a foreign language, even for native English speakers. Archaic words like “marry” and “god-den” makes for a more confusing yet defined style- especially if you are imitating Shakespeare. “Marry” means “by the Virgin Mary,” and “god-den” means “good afternoon” or “god blessed ‘noon.”

      Reply
      • Jim d. -  February 13, 2016 - 2:19 pm

        Within the context of technical standards writing, “…shall…” constitutes a requirement; “…should…” constitutes a suggestion.

        Reply
      • Mr Evil -  June 19, 2016 - 1:39 pm

        Just to say that shall is in very common usage in UK. ‘Shall i do that then?’ etc. Raises uncertainty around actioning something. ‘Should I do that then? has a different emphasis and raises a moral uncertainty around actioning something.

        Reply
    • rocky -  February 3, 2016 - 10:35 am

      that’s cool

      Reply
      • RectalRuin -  February 5, 2016 - 10:03 am

        Thank you. I believe that everyone has the right to useful knowledge. I expect that people know what they are saying when they speak, and if they don’t, then I am happy to help. I read Shakespeare voraciously, and to spread the pleasures of long hours of Old English is my utter pleasure. God-den, or good day.

        Reply
      • myles.huffman -  March 1, 2016 - 7:14 am

        im 37 and you must be 10 or younger

        Reply
    • nathan -  February 11, 2016 - 5:30 am

      Quite right

      Reply
    • Mike -  May 20, 2016 - 11:05 am

      I think of “shall” as the same thing as “will”, except that “shall” makes it feel less like you are predicting the future. In a way it is like “should” but without the doubt “should” implies, similar to the way adding “God willing” to a sentence is not an attempt to cast any real doubt on the promise in the sentence. It is also used in a command, such as saying “you shall not go there” instead of “you will not go there,” because I have no idea whether you will break the rule and end up there.

      Reply
  8. Mart -  February 2, 2016 - 5:16 pm

    I believe that even highly educated individuals may still have a problem with certain words.

    Reply
  9. Poseidon`s other son -  February 2, 2016 - 8:19 am

    This is… different.

    Reply
  10. watup -  January 21, 2016 - 8:48 am

    whats the
    DifFeRnce

    Reply
  11. watup -  January 21, 2016 - 8:47 am

    whats the diffrence

    Reply
    • lsa -  February 2, 2016 - 10:20 am

      Did you not read it???????

      Reply
  12. Ariana -  October 14, 2015 - 8:26 pm

    At school we were told that the headmistress and owner of our school was our pal ergo principal. Teachers used to try and scare me when they sent me to your office,but you just
    weren’t scary. Thanks Miss OWENS

    Reply
    • sexysmith -  February 2, 2016 - 4:06 pm

      no something is wrong wit u

      Reply
      • MyaFaire -  February 3, 2016 - 5:56 pm

        I am flabbergasted to find such atrocious spelling from someone perusing Dictionary.com.

        Reply
        • icequeenxoxo -  February 8, 2016 - 1:20 pm

          lol so true and come on smith you know little kids read this stuff your teaching them wrong stuff for example im five (not true) i actually (am 15) but that does not matter :0

          Reply
          • LunaNotLoony -  March 23, 2016 - 8:36 am

            Whereas I am unsurprised to see such a display of snobbery.
            Do you even know what peruse means, dictionary.com browser? “To read carefully and thoroughly” – and you clearly think they didn’t peruse dictionary.com, what with their “atrocious spelling”, so why use that word? Oh right, you think it makes you sound cleverer than simply saying “read”, even though that word with be more accurate, as you have no information on how carefully or thoroughly they read dictionary.com.

      • myles.huffman -  March 1, 2016 - 7:14 am

        i like that name

        Reply
  13. Ritualust -  October 11, 2015 - 5:45 am

    A reminder for Soccer Dude and all others who believe people beyond a certain age should just know certain things. Observe the number of adults these days who don’t look both ways before crossing the streets. Thumb through a 5th grade textbook, and it’s a certainty you’ll either learn something new or be reminded of something you’ve long forgotten. And so on. It wouldn’t take a lot of work to find a a Rutgers or Harvard graduate who would get the principal/principle thing wrong.

    Reply
  14. Joel -  October 10, 2015 - 9:51 pm

    The principled Principal’s principal principle is principally to ensure principle.

    Reply
    • Sergio Gutierrez -  October 16, 2015 - 3:21 pm

      I agree. But any principle should have a principal premise to define the principle and to give a principal value to sustain that principle.

      Reply
    • alexander -  February 2, 2016 - 2:43 pm

      i don’t get it

      Reply
      • Karen -  February 4, 2016 - 11:13 am

        Very clever! Me like.

        Reply
    • Tshlaine -  February 9, 2016 - 3:34 am

      Absolutely a great study! Wrote it down to rehearse, share and teach. Thanks.

      Reply
  15. Billie -  October 9, 2015 - 2:41 pm

    The principal at school — should always be your pal.

    Reply
  16. WhiteRaven -  October 1, 2015 - 8:34 am

    I wish the article had explained, in a loan with interest scenario, why the payment is principal and interest, not principle.

    Reply
    • Ed Givdob -  October 7, 2015 - 5:36 am

      In the context of money lending, principal only denotes the amount borrowed without including the interest. It is the main or primary amount to money.
      If person A borrows $100. at 5% interest and person B borrows $100. at 3% the principal is the same in both cases $100.

      Reply
      • nat -  October 7, 2015 - 11:55 am

        waz up I mostly agree with elise

        Reply
      • Keith Bender -  October 10, 2015 - 12:35 pm

        The Primary Principal in Credit Card unsecured lending is the Interest Income Generated. The Principal being subordinated to the Collection of Interest which is the Primary reason the Principal is now the Interest revenue and not the original Primary.

        A Farmer claims Land to plant his crops on because the Sheriff will with force protect the Principals interests in the property that the Farmer
        holds title on. the Farmer must share a taxshilla portion with the local law enforcement and another to set aside to plant again the next year.So, having Purchased protection from the local Governing body he sets out to Grow the best economic product he can to pay off the Government, and the Lord of the manor he mortgaged his fields with and only then does he have a chance to profit on HIS potential Interests.

        Having secured his Principal Interests the Production value and the Interest rates it yields become the Primary Principal and for which certain principles and procedures are followed to create and maintain a Living Wage from the Land that maintains Principal before principles.

        So, Interest becomes the Primary Principal explaining why all past due
        interest is collected before applying any funds to repayment of the Original Principal. Money is doing no good sitting in a shoe box just as a House is doing no good sitting empty. Explaining why Housing is again generally a better long term investment than money. Unless you
        run the Money game and then all bets are off.

        Reply
        • Keith Bender -  October 10, 2015 - 1:27 pm

          Pardon me for hogging all this virtual Whiteboard space. But it occurred
          to me after hitting Enter ( no Edit?):

          Though not a triple play on Princi but maybe on Primus A Prime Principle yields Principal just as the Principal who is Principled will
          attain their Prime Interest.

          The magic in words become evident when one aligns the word
          in three’s. To Sell a House it must be Clean Clean Clean.
          Read left to right or right to left some do yield the same meaning.

          Latin being a stopping off point in the evolution of how Linguistic’s has maintained a mathematical and musical connection to the more original
          more ancient Sumerian vocalizations. Abba daba du.

          Two N’s met and decided to make an M. One had to turn around and face the other and the overlap made them meet in the middle evermore stronger than by themselves. But it may be just the opposite. M decided
          to look at itself and had to split into a yin to the other yang balance to do
          so. (1H2O)

          AESOP never existed anymore than the teaching value of his Fables.
          Aesop means Collection. So a Collection of Fables to teach Principals Principles that are Prime for us. all the Princes and Princesses.

          I love words…hope you do to.

          Reply
      • Phil Moore -  October 12, 2015 - 6:52 am

        In terms of the explanations given, that is the starting money. What you see on your first statement, before any interest is added.

        My students also have trouble with vertical, wanting to misspell it as verticle.

        Reply
    • MyaFaire -  February 3, 2016 - 5:57 pm

      It’s a friendly loan!

      Reply
  17. Elise -  September 29, 2015 - 2:24 pm

    :P

    Reply
  18. Elise -  September 29, 2015 - 2:24 pm

    :O

    Reply
  19. Elise -  September 29, 2015 - 2:22 pm

    My NEW principal is very nice and he live on my street. That’s WERID!!! :D

    Reply
    • U Wish -  October 7, 2015 - 9:19 am

      IK ight that would be very weird and just not right at all.

      Reply
    • elisabith -  October 7, 2015 - 6:31 pm

      creepy, not weird, just downright creepy.

      Reply
  20. Jignesh Chokshi -  September 24, 2015 - 10:38 pm

    A “Principal” should observe strict “principles” for better results.

    Reply
  21. nathanial campbell -  September 22, 2015 - 1:39 am

    if u have things to the point u know it all then why be making a comment comment about it ?? l

    Reply
    • Johny Cross -  September 28, 2015 - 10:52 am

      I absolutely agree. Having similar pronunciation, these words are often confused – to some, at least.

      Reply
  22. Marc -  September 21, 2015 - 8:59 pm

    Hi Soccer Dude, I think people will appreciate your apology though I have to say, whilst you may well be correct in your presumption that “everyone over 10 or 11 can tell the difference between “principle” and “principal”, please remember that not “everyone” is or has been fortunate enough to have had a top notch education. I am therefore very happy that people care enough to leave their comments, which undoubtedly do help the less fortunate.

    Reply
    • Pauline Cahilll -  February 4, 2016 - 6:00 am

      I had a good education (a long, long time ago) but was not clear on the difference until fairly recently. I knew the two words were difference and that I should look them up to check (in a dictionary before the internet), but wasn’t sure which was which.

      Reply
  23. Kirubanidhi -  September 20, 2015 - 3:44 am

    You could have mentioned that the two words are pronounced similarly.
    Many in India still pronounce the word relating to the head of an institution as “princi-pall”. There was a short term among the students for the Principal of the college, when I studied in the late 1970s in Madras. He/she was called
    “Princi”. I think the usage may still be around.

    Reply
  24. Lego dude -  September 18, 2015 - 11:50 am

    i think anyone can tell the difference between the words, not to be rude

    Reply
    • Nhi -  September 22, 2015 - 6:50 pm

      Ha

      Reply
  25. Anyaji Gabriel -  September 18, 2015 - 5:26 am

    I find this article really interesting… publish also the difference nteresting and interested

    Reply
    • Jeanette -  October 7, 2015 - 7:39 pm

      You are an interesting person kind of means that you are not boring…you provide interest. I am interested in you …or in art…a mental action on my part.
      I am interested in interesting people.

      Reply
  26. Raman Ade -  September 17, 2015 - 9:19 am

    I expected you to add another cogent difference in the area of pronunciation which the two have in common. Regards.

    Reply
  27. Soccer Dude -  September 16, 2015 - 9:31 pm

    I find this article unnecessary because I am pretty sure that everyone over 10 or 11 can tell the difference between “principle” and “principal”.

    Reply
    • Soccer Dude -  September 16, 2015 - 9:32 pm

      Sorry about my rudeness though.

      Reply
      • Alvin -  September 26, 2015 - 2:45 pm

        Actually I don’t find your comment so much rude as wrong. You merely expressed an opinion without personal animadversion. There’s nothing improper about that; but I’d be willing to bet that a majority of American adults couldn’t define the difference between these two words with any confidence.

        Reply
        • elisabith -  October 7, 2015 - 6:32 pm

          so true

          Reply
          • Layla (emails layla@gmail.com) -  November 2, 2015 - 4:06 pm

            Yep. So true.

        • Jeanette -  October 7, 2015 - 7:35 pm

          I agree, Alvin, and most are embarrassed to ask for help.

          Reply
      • Rocky -  February 3, 2016 - 9:42 am

        that’s okay

        Reply
    • Jeanette -  October 7, 2015 - 7:34 pm

      OMG…are you totally in a bubble? I sincerely wish you were right. The principal is your PAL. A principle ends in -le, as does rule. Mnemonic devices are fine.

      Reply
      • Jeanette -  October 7, 2015 - 7:41 pm

        Soccer dude…I apologize for sounding rude…I just know that there are people who have a lot of trouble with language, and they need understanding.

        Reply
    • Ackee Eater -  February 5, 2016 - 8:16 am

      *Should*. ‘Footballer’ Dude, change “can” to “should” and you’d be right. I’m Jamaican and the last syllable of those wirds are pronounced differently in Jamaica. Hence I was surprised when I came to the USA and found Americans seeing them as homonyms. Bro, it’s a conflation I commonly see written. I could also tell you about some issues with name mispronunciations (or re-pronunciations)…

      1. One Jamaican friend here too, Devon, who corrects people when called “Devin”. It’s “Devón” he usually tells them.
      2. Ditto for another buddy, Basil. It should more rhyme with “frazzle”.
      3. My cousin’s daughter’s name is Vonetta, with the vowel of the first syllable properly pronounced as a round-mouthed O. She was registered in school, where her name was mispronounced as “Vinetta”. First school report came home with it spelt as “Vinetta”! (Yes, I wrote “spelt”.) My cuz was livid, you hear! LOL.

      –Æ.

      Reply

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