Word Choice – Principle Versus Principal

Heather’s  question: “I hope you’ll address the words ‘principal’ versus ‘principle’ soon. I was taught principal was a school official, as in your ‘pal,’ and principle is defined as a belief. In more recent years, I think some instructors have this rule mixed up.”

BizWritingTip response: Principal and principle do confuse many people. Yes, you are right: the person down the hall is the principal — your pal. However, the word does have other meanings.

When used as a noun, it can also mean — among other things — the leading performer in a concert or play or a capital sum.

Examples (correct)

The principal plus the interest is due the end of the month.

He is a principal in the play.

When used as an adjective, principal means the first in rank or importance. Think in terms of the word main. There is an “a” in main and an “a” in principal.

Examples (correct)

She is a principal dancer.

What is the principal clause in the sentence?

Principle can only be used as a noun. It means a fundamental truth or a code of conduct.

Examples (correct)

She is a person of high principles.

Our first principle is to be good to our customers.

Here’s how I remember when to use this word. The word rule ends in -le. So does principle. If I can use rule in a sentence, I can also use principle.