Commonly Confused Words: Principle/Principal

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Are the principles of the constitutional interpretation clear? Or would that be constitutional principals?

Uses of Principle:

  • Principle (noun): A principle is a noun that refers to a philosophical truth or guiding belief: “The judge adheres to high moral principles.”
  • Principled (adjective): When used as an adjective, principled implies someone who has strong ethical or moral standards: “The principled judge does his job dutifully.”

Uses of Principal:

  • Principal (noun): When used as a noun, a principal can refer to several things: (1) the leader of a school (“The principal of the high school rejected the idea.”); (2) a sum of money invested or loaned (“The debtor’s principal remained the same because he made payments only on the interest.”); or (3) the primary actor in a legal transaction (“The principal directed his agent to make the purchase.”).
  • Principal (adjective): When used as an adjective, principal means the primary or most important: “The principal investor threatened to withdraw funding if the employee wasn’t fired.”


(1) If you need an adjective, use principal if you mean MAIN and principle if you mean ETHICAL.

(2) If you need a noun, use principle for a TRUTH or BELIEF, otherwise use principal.

Now let’s take these principles and apply them to some practice problems!


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1. In which of the underlined portions below is the correct word used?

 I. The principal in the contract is the party who is primarily responsible for fulfilling its terms.

II. The two principals in the negotiation were unable to reach an agreement.

III. The contract’s principals include a clause about liability.

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2. In which of the underlined portions below is the incorrect word used?

 I. The principal of the loan was repaid over five years.

II. The statutory interpretation principals were laid out in the first section of the contract.

III. The corporation’s principals were found guilty of fraud.

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3. In the following sentence, which underlined use is incorrect? The principled investor owed a $25,000 principal balance to the principal of his son’s High School for a separate business loan he had acquired.

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