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Are you one of those who think that the English language is sometimes unnecessarily complicated? Do you despise homonyms, because you get thoroughly confused about when to use what? And of the homonyms, the ever present confusion is about the use of 'principle' and 'principal'. When should one use the 'le' and when is it right to use the 'al'? Can one get a set of basic English grammar rules, to explain how one should go about the use of these two utterly perplexing words? Well, your queries will all be answered in this Buzzle article. Clear your mind, and get ready to get rid of the whole principal and principle confusion.

Principle or Principal: What to Use and When

During the course of your numerous grammar classes, I'm sure you've pondered about when to use the word principle, and when to use the word principal. And when you didn't understand, you conveniently decided to use an alternative altogether. Given below are some simple rules that will help you in understanding the concept clearly. Also given are a few sentences for practice, so that you can check if you've understood them or not.

PrinciplePrincipal
The word principle, can be used only as a noun.The word principal, as far as being classified as a part of speech is concerned, can be used as a noun and as an adjective.
Since principle is a noun, it can freely be used as a plural.The adjective form of the word principal can never be used in plural. Only the noun form can be used in plural.
The meaning of the noun principle is something that has been accepted, by and large as a rule, generalization, or a generality. It also stands for a moral code of conduct that a person believes in and follows.

Also, any fundamental law that a particular phenomenon works by is a principle.

Apart from those meanings; precept, rationale, tenet, doctrine, etc. are others.
The adjective principal, means something that is very important, or primary to an issue.

Other meanings are chief, main, etc.

The noun principal can mean the head educator of a school, as in, principal of a school''.

It has another meaning too. It is the original debt amount of a loan, minus any interest on it.
Antonyms: Dishonor, unethical, immorality, etc.Antonyms: Unimportant, trivial, secondary, etc.
Examples
  • Sara is a woman of principles.
  • The principles of gravity are well explained in this book.
  • He always followed a set of principles, whether it was at work, or at home.
Examples
  • The principal of the school held a staff meeting.
  • The principal reason for my being here, is to discuss the deteriorating condition of the city's roads.
  • The principal amount that you owe me is $4500.

Hope that table explaining the basics of using principle and principal in English has helped to clear your doubts. It's really very simple if you pay good attention, and know exactly what you want to say. Sometimes, you might know what you want to say, but may make a small typing error. Your word processor might automatically correct it to something different, by using the closest available matches. So remember to check and recheck what you have typed.

An Exercise

Now for the testing. Given below are some sentences in which you need to use either of the two: principle or principal. Try it out and find out if you've really understood. If not, then go back up and read once again!
  1. The ________ of the high school was on leave.

  2. Phoebe says in the famous sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S, "If I don't have my _______, then I don't have anything."

  3. It all boils down to the basic ________ of life.

  4. Mr. Smith was the ________ addresser at the meeting.

  5. The _______ was $7512. So, I will not pay any interest.

  6. _________ and scruples mean almost the same thing.
With that exercise and those explanations, you're sure to have understood, and solved the dilemma that you were in regarding these two rather confusing words. So go on, and help as many people you can!