Principal and Principle

Commonly Confused Words

Teacher looks unhappy with student
Being the principal is an important job. Katrina Wittkamp / Getty Images

The words principal and principle are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.


  • As a noun, principal commonly means administrator, person in charge of a school, first in order of importance, or amount of money. As an adjective, principal means most important.
  • The noun principle means basic truth or rule or standard of behavior.

See the usage notes below. Also see Misleading Memory Prompts: Why the Principal Isn't Our Pal.


  • According to the Peter Principle, a worker will rise to his or her level of incompetence.
  • Ms. Benson said that boredom was her principal reason for retiring.
  • "Last summer, Edward DeMarco, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's regulator, scuppered the White House's plan to write down principal for half a million homeowners who'd fallen behind on payments, listing among his reasons that it would encourage others to stop paying. It was an argument of principle over principal: DeMarco's own analysis showed that the White House plan could save $3.6 billion." (Tad Friend, "Home Economics." The New Yorker, February 4., 2013)

Usage Notes

  • Principle is always a noun and will never be used as an adjective.
  • Principal can be a noun or an adjective but will typically signal something of importance.


  1. Mr. Riley retired as school _____ after 20 years on the job.
  2. His _____ ambition now is to tend to his garden.
  1. The _____ of gardening is the same as the _____ of teaching: to provide nourishment.

Answer Key

  1. Mr. Riley retired as school principal after 20 years on the job.
  2. His principal ambition now is to tend to his garden.
  3. The principle of gardening is the same as the principle of teaching: to provide nourishment.
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Principal and Principle." ThoughtCo, Apr. 1, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 1). Principal and Principle. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Principal and Principle." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 23, 2018).