What's the Difference? Principle vs Principal
Unsure of the difference between principle and principal? They may look similar and sound identical, but knowing the principles behind their differences is of principal importance.
Principle (n)
  • A principle is a rule, theory or belief. It is used in two different ways:
    1. Rules and beliefs that guide moral (of right and wrong) behaviour
      • The corrupt businessman is clearly not a man of principle.
      • Though I needed the money, I refused to take a loan as it went against my principles.
      • As a matter of principle I should pay for my share.
      • I do not eat meat on principle.
      • Our society is built on the principles of freedom and equality.
    2. Fundamental truth or theory that determines how something happens or works
      • The tradeoff between risk and return is a basic principle in finance.
      • Before going into business together, we should first agree a set of principles on how we will work, cooperate, and resolve conflicts.
      • The technology may look advanced, but the principle behind it is simple.
      • Before deciding which candidate to hire, we should go back to first principles and ask ourselves why we are even hiring?
      • I agree with you in principle (in essence) but we disagree on the details.
Principal (n/adj)
  • As a noun, principal could refer to:
    1. The teacher in charge of a public school (also called a head teacher, headmaster or headmistress in British English)
      • Louise spoke to the principal about her daughter's misbehaviour at school.
    2. The original amount of money that is lent, borrowed, or invested
      • The higher interest rates are going to provide a higher financial return on my principal.
      • My monthly mortgage payment covers the interest on the loan as well as some of the principal.
    3. The most important person or leader of a group
      • Because of her skill and experience, Polly was the principal of the violin section in the orchestra.
      • The principal of the burglars have been arrested by police.
    As an adjective, principal means "main" or "most important".
    • My principal reason for buying that house was to generate rental income.
    • The company's principal source of income is royalties.
    • Polly's brother Lucas is the principal cellist of their orchestra
Principal and principle share a common origin – the Latin word princeps, which is from primus (first) and capere (to take). Princeps means the ruler, since they have the right "to takes first", and is therefore also the origin of the word prince.

There were two developments from princeps. One led to principalis in Latin and principal in Old French, both meaning a person of first importance. The other led to principium in Latin and principle in Old French, both meaning "basis or origin".
How to remember the difference
Principle refers to a rule, theory or belief. You can remember this by imagining the "le" from principle coming from rule, or from legal (as in "legal principles").

Principal is most commonly used to mean the teacher in charge of a school. And ideally, you would like the principal to be your "pal".
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