definition of Principals by The Free Dictionary


main; foremost; the person in charge: the school principal; a capital sum (of money)

Not to be confused with:

principle – essential quality; law; moral rule: true to her principles; doctrine: the principle of the matter

Abused, Confused, & Misused Words by Mary Embree Copyright © 2007, 2013 by Mary Embree




1. First or highest in rank or importance. See Synonyms at chief.

2. Of, relating to, or being financial principal, or a principal in a financial transaction.



a. One who holds a position of presiding rank, especially the head of an elementary school, middle school, or high school.

b. A main participant in a situation, especially a financial transaction.

c. A person having a leading or starring role in a performance, such as the first player in a section of an orchestra.


a. An amount of capital originally borrowed or invested, as opposed to the interest paid or accruing on it.

b. The most significant part of an estate, as opposed to minor or incidental components.

3. Law

a. The person on behalf of whom an agent acts.

b. The person having prime responsibility for an obligation as distinguished from one who acts as surety or as an endorser.

c. The main actor in the perpetration of a crime.

4. Architecture Either of a pair of inclined timbers forming the sides of a triangular truss for a pitched roof.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin prīncipālis, from prīnceps, prīncip-, leader, emperor; see per in Indo-European roots.]

prin′ci·pal·ly adv.

prin′ci·pal·ship′ n.

Usage Note: 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 “” or “”: The coach’s principal concern is the quarterback’s health.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.



adj (prenominal)

1. first in importance, rank, value, etc; chief

2. (Banking & Finance) denoting or relating to capital or property as opposed to interest, etc


3. a person who is first in importance or directs some event, action, organization, etc

4. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (in Britain) a civil servant of an executive grade who is in charge of a section

5. (Law) law

a. a person who engages another to act as his agent

b. an active participant in a crime

c. the person primarily liable to fulfil an obligation

6. (Education) the head of a school or other educational institution

7. (Education) (in Scottish schools) a head of department

8. (Banking & Finance) finance

a. capital or property, as contrasted with the income derived from it

b. the original amount of a debt on which interest is calculated

9. (Building) a main roof truss or rafter

10. (Music, other) music

a. the chief instrumentalist in a section of the orchestra

b. one of the singers in an opera company

c. 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

11. (Theatre) the leading performer in a play

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

ˈprincipalship n

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(ˈprɪn sə pəl)


1. first or highest in rank, importance, value, etc.; chief; foremost.

2. of or constituting principal or capital: a principal investment.


3. a chief or head.

4. the head or director of a school or, esp. in England, a college.

5. a chief actor or performer.

6. a matter of the greatest importance.

7. Law.

a. a person who authorizes another to act for him or her.

b. a person who commits a crime or is present and acts as an abettor.

8. a capital sum, as distinguished from interest or profit.

9. the main body of an estate, or the like, as distinguished from income.

10. (in a framed structure) a member, as a truss, upon which adjacent or similar members depend for support or reinforcement.

11. each of the combatants in a duel, as distinguished from the seconds.

[1250–1300; Middle English prīncipālis first, chief =prīncip- (see prince) + -ālis -al1]

prin′ci•pal•ly, adv.

prin′ci•pal•ship`, n.

usage: Although pronounced alike, principle and principal are not interchangeable in writing. A principle is broadly “a rule of action or conduct” or “a fundamental doctrine or tenet.” The adjective principal has the general sense “chief, first, foremost.” The noun principal has among other meanings “the head or director of a school” and “a capital sum, as distinguished from interest or profit.”

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


– principal

In Britain, the teacher in charge of a school is called the headmaster or headmistress. In America, these terms refer only to teachers in charge of private schools. The teacher in charge of any other kind of school is called the principal.

In Britain, the person in charge of a college is often called a principal. In the United States, the person in charge of a college is usually called a president.

Dr Susan Danby, Principal of the College of the Royal Academy of Dancing, 1979-99.

…a high-profile team of business people and educators, including former Yale president Benno Schmidt.


– principle

1. “”

Principal can be an adjective or a noun.

The principal thing or person in a group is the most important one.

His principal interest in life was money.

The principal character in the film was played by John Hurt.

The principal of a school or college is the person in charge of it.

The teacher sent me to the principal’s office.

Lodge was Principal of Birmingham University.

2. “”

Principle is always a noun. A principle is a general rule that someone’s behaviour or ideas are based on.

She did not eat meat because it was against her principles.

We follow the principle that everyone should be treated equally.

Collins COBUILD English Usage © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 2004, 2011, 2012


A person who is in charge of a school or other educational institution.

Dictionary of Unfamiliar Words by Diagram Group Copyright © 2008 by Diagram Visual Information Limited

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