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principal vs. principle



i’m also a word and language geek.  one could say a novice linguist, but that would suggest way to much attention and study. i love homonyms and word games; double entendres and mondegreensmalapropisms and eggcorns.  my interest in words is purely for entertainment.  the fact that i write a lot is simply happy synergy of this interest with my day job.

however, i’m stuck at the moment in a quandary that is entertaining for me.

if i am the partner that is responsible for and a technical contributor to our MySQL practice will i be the principal (as i was taught over-simplistically in elementary school  – the principal is your pal.  it’s a noun.) or the principle (a law or precept -again simplistic).

i don’t tend to think of myself as a law unto myself or the primary source, so spelling it principle doesn’t seem right. and the definition of principal of most important, consequential, or influential  is closer.  but, i’ve gotten feedback from clients that each is wrong. i can’t have it both ways or in this case, neither way.

i’m stumped.  i assume there is a right answer, but i’m going to have to defer to greater minds.

mirriam webster says —

Although nearly every handbook and many dictionaries warn against confusing principle and principal, many people still do. Principle is only a noun; principal is both adjective and noun. If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.

yeah, that didn’t really help, but thanks!

is there a definitive answer?


Post a comment
  1. Eric #
    February 15, 2009

    This page seems to have a pretty good summary:

    I’d boil it down to: principals can be people, principles can’t. Note the m-w “principle” definition only has shades of objecthood in each of the entries. Don’t go objectifying yourself!

  2. February 15, 2009

    I believe the correct word is “principal.” If you look at the definitions for “principal” and “principle,” only the definitions for “principal” include references to people.

    If you are the leader of the project or the main person people go to for answers, you are the principal.

  3. Laura #
    February 15, 2009

    If you want to indicate that you hold a major role in your practice or that you are a primary contributor, then the word you want is “principal.”

    From the American Heritage Dictionary:
    Principal and principle are often confused but have no meanings in common. Principle is only a noun and usually refers to a rule or standard. Principal is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it has specialized meanings in law and finance, but in general usage it refers to a person who holds a high position or plays an important role: a meeting among all the principals in the transaction. As an adjective it has the sense of “chief” or “leading”: The coach’s principal concern is the quarterback’s health.

    Even professional writers and editors sometime get it wrong:

  4. February 15, 2009

    verdict is in.

    my title should be be principal, MySQL practice.

    however, i do want to note that i lead a principled practice as well!

  5. kim #
    June 7, 2009

    In my linkedin profile I had my title as principle of my agency. Someone I dialogued with came onto my blog and corrected it in the comments….giving me the definition of the two words.

    I too think of myself as a grammar queen, but the older I get the more I play around with the rules, boil it down to the internet.

    That said, I did not want to confuse myself as principal of my agency with the principal of my school, the latter of which I had issues with as a youngster. Also, your point, about being principled…was also my point; a way of combining the two meanings without saying it. I am principled while being principal of my firm. Why not just be the principle of my firm, then. Cut to the chase as it were.

    Well, no one wants to buy my definition, so I just went for President.

  6. Ashlee #
    July 28, 2009

    Remember it like this: the PRINCIPAL is your PAL! He doesn’t want to suspend you, but it is a matter of PRINCIPLE! Does that help?

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