'Principal' or 'Principle'?

(Last Updated: 26 February 2022)

It is easy to confuse principal with principle because they are homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently).

Principal can be either an adjective or a noun.

As an adjective, it means 'main' or 'most important':

✅ Teaching is my principal source of income.

✅ The principal reason for going to Japan is for the food.

As a noun, it means 'the person in charge of a school or college':

✅ Who is the principal of King's College?

Principle is a noun meaning 'a basic rule' or 'a belief about what is right or wrong':

✅ We learnt the basic principles of car maintenance.

✅ Lying is against my principles.

Tips for remembering the difference

The first mnemonic above serves to remind you that principal may be an actual person, who may be your friend. Use the same word as a describing word to mean something like 'main' or 'chief'.

Examples from the media

White House officials say they have no evidence to suggest anything nefarious or criminal is in the works, and that their principal focus for now is clearing the border blockades. Toronto Star

Principals in Virginia's Loudoun County Public School District, near Washington D.C., have been given a step-by-step guide to help them apply for a warrant from a magistrate should any student try to enter school without wearing a mask. —Daily Mail

A national campaign should be launched to educate people in the basic principles of parenting, a government-commissioned review concludes today. —The Guardian

To help Hong Kong's younger generation develop strong moral principles, RTHK has produced a TV series called Ethics Education which is intended to be educational as well as entertaining. —South China Morning Post

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