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When is a Principal a Principle? Or is it?

By Judy Vorfeld

Need help dis­cov­er­ing the dif­fer­ences between these two words? They cause a lot of confusion!

Principal means first in author­ity; main par­tic­i­pant, or amount of a debt minus the inter­est. It can be a noun or an adjective.

Examples: He is the prin­ci­pal stockholder.…She is the prin­ci­pal speaker.…The amount of prin­ci­pal is $200,000.

Principle means a basic truth or assump­tion. A lot of peo­ple think of prin­ci­ples in rela­tion to ethics, rules, stan­dards, morals, guide­lines, etc. It’s a noun, where prin­ci­pal is a noun or an adjective.

Examples: The book revealed 20 prin­ci­ples for suc­cess in writ­ing .…The coun­try was founded upon those principles.…She told her friend she wouldn’t cheat, since it was against her principles.

So when is a prin­ci­pal a prin­ci­ple? If a per­son (prin­ci­pal) has a lot of prin­ci­ples, we’d say that the prin­ci­pal has principles.

Perhaps the only time you can say, “I have my prin­ci­pals,” is if you are the par­ent of two or more school prin­ci­pals. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.


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