Writing tip: principle or principal?

Which word: principle or principal? Writing tip from Contented.com

This pair of words has been stumping people forever, and no wonder— they have rather similar meanings, and one of them (principal) has three meanings.

The word principle is always a noun and it is always a thing (not a person). Principle means a standard, basic truth, law or rule. A principle can be theoretical (the osmosis principle) or moral (standing up for your principles).  

The word principal is a bit messier. 

  • As an adjective, it means main or primary: The principal teacher is Mrs Mainman.
  • As a noun, it’s usually short for the most powerful person in an organisation: The principal [teacher in a school or director in a company] is Mrs Mainman.
  • In legal documents, it’s short for the main person involved in a contract or negotiation.

One way to differentiate between these words:

My pal the principal is the prince of the school.

The 5-hour Certificate in Business Writing has heaps more grammar tips 


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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