Principle vs. Principal

What is the difference?


Principle and principal are two commonly confused words in the English language. When do you use each one?

The two words look very similar and they even sound the same, but they mean very different things.

What is the difference between saying a person has a lot of principles and saying he has a lot of principals? We'll look at some examples below to help answer this question.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses


Principle

Principle is a noun that means a strongly held belief or a basic fact. It is often used to describe how good a person is. Someone with strong principles is usually seen as a good, moral person.

Examples:

  1. He did not steal the money because of his principles.
    (He did not steal the money because of his strongly held belief that stealing is wrong.)

    A man with money
  2. I disagree with her, but I respect her principles.
    (I don't agree with her, but I respect what she believes.)

    A woman showing a graph
  3. He is a man of principle.
    (He is a man who acts according to his beliefs.)

    A man reading a message
  4. Learning the principles of math will help you study other subjects.
    (Learning the basic facts of math will help you study other subjects.)

    A math teacher


Principal

Principal can be a noun or an adjective.

As a noun, principal means a person in charge of a school.

Examples:

  1. One of the jobs of a principal is to visit classrooms.
    (The person in charge of the school has to visit classrooms.)

    The principal looking at a broken table
  2. She is a teacher, but wants to be the principal.
    (The teacher wants to be in charge of her school.)

    A math teacher


As an adjective, principal means most important.

Examples:

  1. Chocolate is the principal ingredient in chocolate chip cookies.
    (The most important ingredient in chocolate chip cookies is chocolate.)

    A chocolate chip cookie
  2. He thinks he is the principal member of the group, but we are all equally important.
    (He thinks he is more important than everyone else, but we are all equally important.)

    Three confused people talking
  3. My paycheck is my principal concern.
    (I care more about my paycheck than anything else.)

    A man with money


Tips

Since the two words look similar and sound exactly the same, it can be tricky to remember when to use principle and when to use principal. However, with a little practice, you can avoid embarrassing mistakes, like saying you have a lot people who are in charge of schools when you mean you have a lot of beliefs!

If you are using a noun that refers to a person, you always want to use principal.

If you are using a noun that isn't a person, you want to use principle.
And if you are using an adjective, use principal.

A dog studying a book


A Story to Practice Principle vs. Principal

As principal of the school, Mrs. Howard's principal concern is that her students have good principles. She cares about other things like test scores, of course, but principles are principal for her.

Before she became the principal, Mrs. Howard worked as a teacher, where she taught lessons on different kinds of principles. She taught grammar and told her students they needed to learn the principles before they could understand more complicated rules.

Eventually, her lessons starting including other kinds of principles, like stealing is always wrong. These became her principal lessons and she started giving pop quizzes asking students what principles were principal to them.

Now that Mrs. Howard is the principal, she makes the students walk under a sign each morning that says, "What is your principal principle?" Sometimes she'll stop a student and ask him to name a principle that matters to him. If he doesn't have a good answer, the principal will give him her lecture on the principle of why principles are principal!

Principle vs. Principal


Quiz

Answer the following 10 questions and then check your answers. Each question is worth 10 points.

Part 1

  1. Which of the following is a correct definition of principal?
    1. a strongly held belief
    2. a basic fact
    3. the least important
    4. the person in charge of a school
  2. Which of the following is a correct definition of principle?
    1. a complex idea
    2. a strongly held belief
    3. the person in charge of a school
    4. the most important
  3. Which of the following sentences is written correctly?
    1. Andy is a man with strong principals.
    2. You must understand the principles of grammar to learn a new language.
    3. Avocados are the principle ingredient in guacamole.
    4. The principle ended the school day early.
  4. When you say someone is a person of principle, what does it mean?
    1. They are a good person who sticks to their beliefs.
    2. They are in charge of a school.
    3. They are the most important person.
    4. They understand the basic facts of a subject.

Part 2

  1. The word principal is a:
    1. noun.
    2. adverb.
    3. adjective.
    4. Both a and c
  2. The word principle is a:
    1. noun.
    2. adverb.
    3. adjective.
    4. both a and c

Part 3

  1. John believes that honesty is the best _____________.
    1. principal
    2. principals
    3. principle
    4. principles
  2. The group broke up because the _____________ member quit.
    1. principal
    2. principals
    3. principle
    4. principles
  3. It is against my _____________ to do that.
    1. principal
    2. principals
    3. principle
    4. principles
  4. The _____________ is responsible for evaluating teachers.
    1. principal
    2. principals
    3. principle
    4. principles


Answer Key

1. D | 2. B | 3. B | 4. A | 1. D | 2. A | 1. C | 2. A | 3. D | 4. A


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