Principle vs. Principal – Which To Use?

Principle vs Principal - Which To Use - Online Spellcheck
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When it comes to words that sound the same or are almost identical in spelling, they can be very confusing. Often times, people have a hard time deciding which of the words to choose or use. This grammar rule issue applies to the words principle and principal. While both have totally different meanings, they sound identical when pronounced. So how can you tell which to use between principle and principal? Let us examine this grammar rule to see the best way to help you make that decision.





They Call Them Homophones


The English language has many similar sounding words. Words such as these are called ‘homophones.’  For many students and writers, these words tend to cause headaches and often lead to grammar errors. There are many words that fall into this category. Words such as ‘right’, ‘rite’ and ‘write’ or ‘to’, ‘too’, and ‘two’ are just some, in a long list of homonyms. Luckily, there are some tricks and tips you can use to help you remember which one to choose from and use.


You may also want to read about the Who or Whom Grammar Rules


Using Principal


The word principal, is often used when referring to the head of a school or some other organization. Since it is both an adjective and a noun, choosing between the two largely depends on its usage.


An example would be –

The principal of my high school is named Mr. Evans.

It can also be used when attributing it to the primary suspect or participant in a crime.


An example would be –

The principal suspect in the armed robbery was caught 2 days ago.


When used as an adjective though, the word ‘principal’ is basically the same as ‘primary’, ‘chief’ or ‘leading.’


An example would be –

Vegetables are considered the principal ingredients in most soups.

Hitler’s invasion of Poland is widely viewed as the principal cause of World War 2.


As you can see in the last sentence, the word ‘principal’ actually modifies the word cause. It does so because it is saying that the invasion of Poland by Hitler, was the primary reason why World War 2 began.


One of the uses of the word principal, which often times brings problems to people, is when it is used in reference to the original sum of money invested.


An example would be –

The banker told me that the payments will be applied to the interest first, and then to the principal.

“The dollar is currently the principal reserve currency in the world.” – Robert C. Solomon

He was worried about his money. However, the bond will be redeemed for its principal amount once he makes a profit.



Using Principle


The word principle is actually a bit easier to use since, unlike principal, which is both a noun and adjective, principle is only a noun. As far as its meaning, principle usually refers to a belief or moral rule that helps you know what is right and wrong. It also pertains to standard or legal rules, codes or laws.


An example would be –

Although many questioned his motives, Hector stuck to his principles.

While some may lie, others believe it is against their principles to fib.


Other uses for the word principle apply when it is used to express an idea, essence or fundamental quality.


An example would be –

Once you understand the principles behind calculus, it can become a lot easier to understand.

In principle, the investment was a great idea.


One last sentence which can be used to remember about the proper uses of the words is the following:

“Stand next to your principal, as you hold fast to your principles regarding these principal rules.”


Do not miss reading about these Six Important Grammar Rules You Need To Know


Keep This In Mind


When it comes to homonyms, it is all a matter of practicing and remembering the grammar rules. One of the best ways to remember or discern which of the two to use between principal and principle, is by the last 3 letters. Since the word “princi-P-A-L” has the word “PAL” in the end, think of it that way. This means that when you are referring or want to address someone as your ‘pal,’ then the proper word is principal. Because principal indicates ‘pals’, the other word, principle, would not apply. Remember also that “Princi-P-L-E”  indicates rules, codes, standards and or truths. Since a code, law or truth cannot be your ‘pal’, the word principle should not be used.