Commonly confused: Principal or principle?

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The words “principal” and “principle” are commonly confused in many manuscripts that we copyedit, and it is not hard to see why.

The pronunciation of these two words is identical. In grammar-speak, they belong to the class of words known as homophones, which are words having identical pronunciation but different spellings and/or meanings.

The word “principal” typically refers to an individual who is the head of a school, or it describes something as being the most important. For example, if you write that “the principal objective today is to finish writing the report”, you are saying that the most important thing to do today is to complete the report.

In contrast, the word “principle” typically refers to a strongly-held moral belief or rule, such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

When writing, do pay attention to these two commonly confused words if you decide to use either one or both of them! When you use one instead of the other, the effect can be quite hilarious, e.g. “The school principle called me this morning”.

I hope that you are now more aware of the differences between these two commonly confused words. To check if you have mastered the differences between these two commonly confused words, we have prepared a short quiz to test your mastery. Try the quiz below!

Principal or principle?

1 / 3

You should not make friends with people who do not have any principals.

2 / 3

My principle concern is time, not cost.

3 / 3

I am a person who does not compromise my principles.

Your score is

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