Principle, Principal

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Principle and principal are easily confused. It doesn’t help that they are homophones, which means they sound alike. Here’s a guide to what they mean and how you can tell them apart.

The word principle means a standard, a law or a rule. This means you can have:

  • the principles of economics, which are the laws that govern economic theory
  • moral principles, which are the rules and standards that govern your behavior

The word principal usually refers to a person. Remember that it ends in ‘pal’, which is a person. A principal can be:

  • the head of a school
  • the head of an organization
  • the main person involved in a contract or financial negotiation

Putting It All Together
If you remember that principal is a person, then you can easily make sense of this sentence:

The principal taught us the first principle of social responsibility.

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16 thoughts on “Principle, Principal”

  1. I am fortunate in that my principal from 5th grade through graduation, has since become a very dear friend. Though I would not think of him as a pal to hang out with on the weekends, I do consider him a great friend and counselor when I need guidance in my life.

    I guess that is how you know you are approaching 40 years old. When people who used to be your tormentors are becoming your friends.

  2. Why is “done” used in place of “through”? Done used to mean cooked—we “cooked” a meal and when we were “through” we sat down to eat. When did this change?

  3. Principals have the job of telling children they can’t do what they want to do, which is the source of the quip, “I don’t dislike school; it’s just the principal of the thing.”

  4. the (principle, principal) of the school was, if you stand on the (principle, principal), you will get kick out of school,

    I am Quite sure the principal principle is to be quiet in the library.

  5. When paying a loan, I noted the bank had principal and interest on the statement. While I have not written or called to complain of this apparent typo, I have since spoken with anking types and have noted that all mortgage related items seem to use the noun principal.

  6. Santi,

    Your bank is not wrong. The information on this site, while it doesn’t say anything wrong, is inaccurate. Principal can be a noun or an adjectice. Principal should be used anytime you are referring to the first or largest of something. So the principal in a loan refers to the largest sum of money. Anything that is not a belief, statement, ideal etc. should use principal. So really people should stop going around using the “Principal is your PAL” slogan, because it leads people to think that on all other occasions one should use “principle” and that is not correct.

  7. Sharon, please update your article using Jacob’s remarks. Simplifications like these simply lead to people learning the wrong rules (the famous “principal is your pal” simplification).

    I get to review scientific articles in which the authors manage to consistently use principle where they should be using principal, and by keeping this article on dailywritingtips you are actually promoting this nonsense!

    I scrolled down to the bottom of the reaction page, simply because I wondered why no-one had corrected your article, many readers will not check all reactions, and simply take your incomplete and misleading advice.

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