Posted by: Jack Henry | May 18, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Principal or Principle

Recently, I was caught using the word principle when I should have written principal (thanks, Ron). As penance, I thought Id take a minute to define these two words, which are linguistically related: both terms generate from the Latin word prmus, meaning prime or first.

My mistake occurred because the word principal, when used as a noun, has two meanings. It can mean the chief or head of an organization (like the principal of a school), or it can mean the amount of money that can earn interest. I came to this financial world from a background in education, and I knew that I wasnt talking about the school principal, so, without thinking further (famous last words), I mistakenly used the word principle to mean the amount of money that can earn interest. Oh, so WRONG!

What makes this word pair even more confusing, is that along with serving as a noun (with two meanings), the word principal, can also serve as an adjective that means the most important. For example, Human encroachment and loss of habitat are the principal reasons that tigers are endangered.

The word principle, on the other hand, only serves as a noun, and it means an accepted rule of action or conduct or a fundamental doctrine or tenet. For example, It is against my principles to hide the fact that I used the wrong word (and Ron would snitch on me anyway).

To recap

Principle is a noun that has only one meaning: Rule of action or conduct/fundamental doctrine or tenet

Principal can be a noun or an adjective and has the following meanings:

o (noun): Chief or head of an organization (or most important person in a group)

o (noun): An amount of money that is put in a bank or lent to someone and that can earn interest

o (adjective): Most important

This is a good reminder that spell check doesnt catch everything. We need to review our own writing, and when possible, have Ron (or someone you trust) review your writing, too


Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

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