Principal, Principle

(confusions explained and clarified with mnemonic tools for remembering the two words)

Directly related to the prin- which comes from the prim- family unit of words.

Two words which are often confused and misused

The spelling of many English words are confusing even to those whose first language is English.

  1. The (principal/principle) reason for this discussion is to improve one’s spelling skills.
  2. All of us should live by certain moral (principals/principles).
  3. The (principal/principle) character in the play is ill.
  4. His political (principals/principles) are less than acceptable.
  5. As a matter of (principal/principle), he refused to borrow money from anyone.
  6. The (principal/principle) invested in that project was $100,000.
  7. We must instill into the minds of our youth (principals/principles) of honesty and morality.

A few words about the use of mnemonic devices that make it easier to remember how to spell certain words correctly.

Although many people have different mnemonic devices for determining which principal/principle to use in a sentence, the best mnemonics to use seem to be "main" for principal and "rule" for principle. Note the relationship of the "a" in main and principal and the "le" in rule and principle. Always make these relationships and you will always use them correctly.

Mnemonic [pronounced, nee MAH nik], as in "mnemonic device", comes from the Greek element which means, "memory" or "to remember" and refers to a technique that facilitates making the right choices for words that are otherwise confusing.

Whenever you want to make sure you have chosen the correct principal/principle, substitute the words main and rule in place of one or the other principal/principle, to see if it makes sense to you and when it does; it is almost certain that you have the right choice. For example, in number one, you could say, "The rule reason for this discussion ...." or say, "The main reason for this discussion ...." and you would logically have to choose main or "principal" because the other choice simply doesn't make any sense.

So many people have used the mnemonic device of saying, "You spell the principal of the school with pal because he/she is your pal" or something similar to that. You are strongly urged NOT to use this mnemonic because it can be very misleading. It tends to make people think that the use of pal is used only with that particular principal. It is far better to say that the principal of the school is spelled with pal because he or she is the MAIN administrator, teacher, or educator of the school.

If you would like to check your comprehension of these "Principal-Principle" words, then you may take the quiz here, or at this principal-principle category link.