I was solving a grammar exercise from the book, Word Power Made Easy, when I came across this question

A feeling of one's worth is one of the principle/principal goals of psychological therapy.

Going by the same rule which has been taught in every school that:

Principle : Rule, standard
Principal : Head( Usually a person)

I marked principle which is wrong, the correct answer according to the book is Principal.

Pondering over the question for a few minutes, I came to this conclusion that principal is not always a person and can refer to the "head or main" point, as in referring to the sentence "the main goals of psychological therapy"

I also looked at this question here "Principal” or “principle”, but it didn't help me either as it says principal usually refers to a person.

My question is, is it necessary to use principal as a person or it can mean something else as well?

  • Here it is an adjective meaning 'most important' and in that meaning it is spelled 'pal'
    – Jim
    Jun 21 '12 at 5:15
  • @Cameron I've seen that question, its not helping because acccording to the answer "principal" should be a person, but in my questions its not applicable. Jun 21 '12 at 5:19
  • @Cameron Thanks for your comment, yes the definition helped in answering my question, I'll edit my question as you said.Please write your comment as an answer so I can accept it.Thank you Jun 21 '12 at 5:29
  • 1
    The rule you have been taught is inadequate. The principal difference between the two is that principle is a noun, and principal is an adjective. "Usually a person" is wrong - that is true for only one meaning of principal.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 21 '12 at 15:28

From merriam-webster.com:


Usage discussion:

Although nearly every handbook and many dictionaries warn against confusing principle and principal, many people still do. Principle is only a noun; principal is both adjective and noun. If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.

In the exercise from the book, the word in question is an adjective modifying "goals," hence it must be principal. As for whether principal (the noun) can refer to more than just people, the dictionary is clear:

1: a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position

2: a matter or thing of primary importance


Because schools have 'principals', people often associate the word with the person, but it's not exclusively associated with people. The school principal is simply the Principal Teacher, or the Head Master as in many countries, and we abbreviate it to Principal.


The usage of principle and principal is very clear, leaving no room for confusion. Principle and principal are nouns. Principle is a theory or tenet, and principal is the head of a school, or the amount of money that we either lend or borrow, on which an interest is charged.

  • 2
    But, of course, the rule for nouns does not help in this case (which is an adjective).
    – GEdgar
    Mar 12 '13 at 13:33
  • "Principal" needn't always be a noun. ("Principle" is always a noun.)
    – Geremia
    Oct 26 '17 at 17:40

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