Definition of principal in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈprɪnsɪp(ə)l/


1First in order of importance; main: the country’s principal cities
More example sentences
  • Otherwise, Tozeur's main business lay in its 40,000 date palms, and the principal activity around the main square was waiting in the shade for time to pass.
  • For example, a capital city or principal centre can be inferred from its size, and from signs of central organization such as an archive, a mint, a palace and major religious buildings, or fortifications.
  • As every resident of central Massachusetts would have understood, that road continued to Boston, the capital city and principal port of the state.
main, chief, primary, leading, foremost, first, most important, predominant, dominant, (most) prominent;
key, crucial, vital, essential, basic, staple, critical, pivotal, salient, prime, central, focal;
premier, paramount, major, ruling, master, supreme, overriding, cardinal, capital, pre-eminent, ultimate, uppermost, highest, utmost, top, topmost, arch-
informal number-one
2Denoting an original sum invested or lent: the principal amount of your investment
More example sentences
  • An investor who does not want to take risks with the principal amount invested should go in for fixed income investments (debt schemes).
  • Corporate bonds usually pay annual interest on the bond and do not repay the principal amount until the bond's maturity.
  • Rio Algom issued units consisting of 25 common shares and a Debenture in the principal amount of $2,000.


1The most important or senior person in an organization or group: a design consultancy whose principal is based in San Francisco
More example sentences
  • When they returned to their headquarters in Welcome, N.C., Childress and the principals in his organization brainstormed.
  • While Aurik leads A T Kearney's Benelux unit, Jonk and Willen are principals at the consultancy firm.
  • Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz are senior partners and principals at LGE Performance Systems.
boss, chief, chief executive (officer), CEO, chairman, chairwoman, managing director, MD, president, director, manager, employer, head, leader, ruler, controller
informal head honcho
British informal gaffer, governor, guv'nor
1.1The head of a school, college, or other educational institution: I was appointed principal of the new school
More example sentences
  • College principals, head teachers and parents in Hampshire will today find out the details of the biggest shake-up to the country's education system in 60 years.
  • Low-performing schools need better principals and teachers.
  • Recently, efforts also have been made to assess teachers, principals, and schools, although not systematically.
dean, rector, warden, chancellor, vice chancellor, president, provost, governor
North American informal prexy, prex
1.2The leading performer in a concert, play, ballet, or opera: the singing style of the principals
More example sentences
  • The maturity of the voices among the principals was amazing for performers all under 18, over fifty in number.
  • The only thing that carries the film is the performances by the principals.
  • What you see is essentially the stage production, but it's full of color and energy, and the principals all deliver creditable performances.
leading actor/actress, leading player/performer, leading man/lady, lead, star;
protagonist, hero, heroine, leading role, title role;
prima donna, diva, prima ballerina
1.3 Music The leading player in each section of an orchestra: he had been an outstanding principal in the orchestra
More example sentences
  • Nearly every section principal had at least one solo, some longer than others, with several exceptional performances.
  • He hired fine section principals, many of whom were hired away by bigger, better financed bands.
  • Ravel's Boléro is an obvious encore because it gives many principals a moment in the spotlight as the theme is passed from one instrument to the next.
1.4(In certain professions) a fully qualified practitioner: principals in general practice are self-employed and controlled by their practice agreements
More example sentences
  • During May to September 1997 we sent a brief questionnaire to all 419 general practice principals in the area administered by Leeds Health Authority.
  • All 33 000 general practitioner principals in England will receive paper copies of issue 4 of Clinical Evidence in early March and issue 5 in the summer.
  • We defined singlehanded general practitioners as general practitioner principals who were not in partnership with other general practitioner principals.
1.5(In the UK) a senior civil servant in charge of a particular section.
Example sentences
  • The principals stated overwhelmingly that government funds were inadequate.
  • He vowed the department would not sit back and fold its arms, but would appoint an acting principal.
  • It is hard to speculate about what York might have looked like today if there had never been a green belt, says Martin Grainger, principal development officer with City of York Council.
2 [in singular] A sum of money lent or invested, on which interest is paid: the winners are paid from the interest without even touching the principal
More example sentences
  • He demonstrated that a person hypothetically could buy a bond and end up repaying the interest and principal through tax payments.
  • A general obligation bond uses tax revenue to guarantee payment of interest and principal.
  • If your lender violated state laws, regulators can force the lender to forgive the entire principal and interest on the home loan.
capital sum, capital, capital funds, working capital, financial resources;
money, debt, loan
3A person for whom another acts as an agent or representative: stockbrokers in Tokyo act as agents rather than as principals
More example sentences
  • The agent of an undisclosed principal may also sue and be sued on the contract.
  • Nothing in that agreement seems to me to prevent Plantiflor acting as agent for principals undisclosed at the time the agreement was made but known from the addressee's name on the packet by the time the parcel was dispatched.
  • Moreover, the use of disclaimers to insulate estate agents and their principals from responsibility for representations was commonplace and the normal basis on which house sales were carried out.
4 Law The person directly responsible for a crime.
Example sentences
  • Complicity often involves the accomplice in words or deeds prior to the principal's crime.
  • Here criminal responsibility arises if the aider and abettor knows that his action will assist the commission of a specific crime by the principal.
  • If a person is determined to be a principal in a crime, the jurors had wanted to know, is that person guilty of the crime?
4.1 historical Each of the combatants in a duel.
Example sentences
  • This speech had so good an effect that my principal immediately stretched forth his hand and said, "I am myself again; give me the weapon."
  • Then he added that he and his principal would enjoy axes, and indeed prefer them, but such weapons were barred by the French code, and so I must change my proposal.
5A main rafter supporting purlins.
Example sentences
  • The truss principal extends from below the plate to the ridge.
  • Two 2 in. x 6 in. struts run from purlin to truss principal.
6An organ stop sounding a main register of open flue pipes typically an octave above the diapason: all the principals are on one manual
More example sentences
  • The plein jeu together with the 8-ft. principal and 4-ft. prestant, which are also from the old great organ, produce a principal chorus which contrasts remarkably with those in the other divisions of the organ.
  • The distinctive pipe organ sound which cannot be duplicated by any other instrument is produced by ranks designated as the Principal.


On the confusion of principal and principle, see principle (usage).



principal in the first degree

Law A person who directly perpetrates a crime.
Example sentences
  • In such circumstances they may allege, in a single count, the alternative allegations that D was principal in the first degree or that he aided and abetted, counselled or procured the offence.
  • Thus, a person may be convicted of a crime so long as the evidence demonstrates that he acted as an accessory before the fact, as a principal in the second degree, or as a principal in the first degree in the commission of such offense.

principal in the second degree

Law A person who directly aids the perpetration of a crime.
Example sentences
  • Those who were merely present, encouraging but not participating physically, or whose acts were not a substantial cause of death, were regarded as principals in the second degree.
  • In felony cases a principal in the second degree could be convicted notwithstanding the prior acquittal of the first-degree principal.



Example sentences
  • Marcella Walsh has created his own historic niche by taking over the principalship at St. Mary's, and I don't know of a more suitable or qualified person for the post than this unassuming but extremely talented teacher.
  • Not wanting to lose touch with his students, Paddy remained teaching during his 31-year principalship.
  • Less than one in 20 of teachers surveyed by a principal's group said they ever intended to apply for a principalship.


Middle English: via Old French from Latin principalis 'first, original', from princeps, princip- 'first, chief'.

Words that rhyme with principal


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: prin¦ci|pal

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