Origin of principal

1250–1300; Middle English < Latin prīncipālis first, chief, equivalent to prīncip- (see prince) + -ālis -al1
Related formsprin·ci·pal·ship, nounun·der·prin·ci·pal, noun
Can be confusedprincipal principle (see usage note at the current entry)

Synonyms for principal

Synonym study

1. See capital1.

Antonyms for principal

Usage note

The noun principle and the noun and adjective principal are often confused. Although pronounced alike, the words are not interchangeable in writing. A principle is broadly “a rule of action or conduct” ( His overriding principle is greed ) or “a fundamental doctrine or tenet” ( Their principles do not permit the use of alcoholic beverages ). The adjective principal has the general sense “chief, first, foremost”: My principal objection is the cost of the project. The noun principal has among other meanings “the head or director of a school” ( The faculty supported the principal in her negotiations with the board ) and “a capital sum, as distinguished from interest or profit” ( The monthly payments go mostly for interest, leaving the principal practically untouched ). Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for principal

Contemporary Examples of principal

Historical Examples of principal

British Dictionary definitions for principal


adjective (prenominal)

first in importance, rank, value, etc; chief
denoting or relating to capital or property as opposed to interest, etc


a person who is first in importance or directs some event, action, organization, etc
(in Britain) a civil servant of an executive grade who is in charge of a section
  1. a person who engages another to act as his agent
  2. an active participant in a crime
  3. the person primarily liable to fulfil an obligation
the head of a school or other educational institution
(in Scottish schools) a head of department
  1. capital or property, as contrasted with the income derived from it
  2. the original amount of a debt on which interest is calculated
a main roof truss or rafter
  1. the chief instrumentalist in a section of the orchestra
  2. one of the singers in an opera company
  3. either of two types of open diapason organ stops, one of four-foot length and pitch and the other of eight-foot length and pitch
the leading performer in a play
Derived Formsprincipalship, noun

Word Origin for principal

C13: via Old French from Latin principālis chief, from princeps chief man, prince


Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for principal

c.1300, "main, principal, chief, dominant, most important;" also "great, large," from Old French principal "main, most important," of persons, "princely, high-ranking" (11c.), from Latin principalis "first in importance; original, primitive," from princeps (see prince).


c.1300, "ruler, governor;" also "main part;" from principal (adj.) or from or influenced by noun uses in Old French and Latin. From mid-14c. in the sense of "money on which interest is paid;" 1827 as "person in charge of a public school," though meaning "head of a college or hall" was in English from mid-15c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for principal


The original amount of money lent, not including profits and interest.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.