Homophones: Principal, Principle

Why Should You Ignore the Principal on Principle?

by Owen Fourie

Actually, if your principle is to ignore the principal, it is time to rethink your principles.

These homophones are often used incorrectly, and you will find many instances of this on the Internet.

To refer to “a general principal” for something or to “the principals taught” in a book instead of using principle or principles is a mistake that is easily made.

The age-old trick to let the -pal ending of principal help you to associate this word with the head of your school could work for you if you regard him or her as a pal.

That hardly seems appropriate, though, and it is also inadequate because principal relates to more than the head person of a school. It is also used as an adjective.

Here is a tabulation to help you to distinguish between these words and to use them correctly:




Noun The main person or head person

The main part

Something of highest rank or importance


Mr. Smith, the dean of mathematics, accepted the position of principal of the new school.

As the senior partner in that firm of accountants, she is the principal.

The more you pay to reduce the principal of your mortgage each month, the less you’ll need to pay in interest.

A broad rule to guide you

A law, a standard

A doctrine, a tenet


Despite her desperate position, she will not borrow money; it is a principle ingrained in her from childhood.

He is a man of principle, so I doubt that you will persuade him to accept these dishonest tactics.

The principles of democracy are spreading quickly and threatening the tyrannical regimes of this world.

Adjective The main or chief thing


She has many ambitions, but her principal goal is to become a skydiver!

My principal concern is for your safety as you go into those dangerous areas.

Never an adjective
Adverb Principally


He has many occupations, but he is principally an accountant.

No adverbial form

With this distinction in mind, you’ll surely agree that it is a better principle to pay attention to your principal.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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