Principal means "primary" or "chief" — like the principal of a school — while principle generally refers to a rule, law, or general truth. Principle is always used as a noun; principal is usually used as an adjective but can also be a noun. "Principal" and "principle" are homophones.
Principal vs. Principle Definitions
Principal, which can be used as an adjective or noun, conveys the meaning of "primary" or "chief." For example, there may be "principal tasks" (adjective use) that an employee must see to before others, and "schools have principals" (noun use). Principal also has an alternative meaning as a noun. It can refer to the "chief part" of a loan — i.e., not the interest — as in, "Apply the extra $50 in this month's mortgage payment toward the principal."
Meanwhile, principle is only ever a noun that refers to a rule, law, or general truth (e.g., the rules or principles of mathematics).
This video clearly explains the difference between principle and principal:
Knowing when to use principal vs. principle can be difficult. Some remember the difference with the help of clever, memorable phrases:
- "The principal alphabetic principle places A before E."
- "The school princiPAL is my PAL."
Others focus on the distinction that principles can be used in the plural, but principal is usually used only in the singular form. This strategy, when used as a quick rule, can often lead to errors. Not only does principle frequently appear in singular form, but the plural "principals" is also appropriate when writing about several individuals, who each have a primary role, whose position of primacy does not conflict with another's similar position (e.g., "The school principals gathered for a meeting, but the superintendent did not attend.").