JS Tip 65: From the Basic Writing Workshops: “Principal” and “Principle”

We love it when one tip leads to another. That happened this week. 

A good friend (let’s call her “Maggie”) wondered if we’d misused “principal” in last week’s tip.

In last week’s tip, another friend (let’s call her “Molly”) had written “I’m the principal annoyer here at work. . . .”

“Principal” in this case means “main” or “chief.” So Molly was saying “I’m the main annoyer at work . . . .” Yeah. That works.   

We grew up with the mnemonic (the memory hook), “The principal is your pal.” It wasn’t always true, but it kept our spelling correct.

But why do we call her “the principal”? Because she’s the main person, the chief person at the school. The word has two functions: as a noun, “We need to see the principal” or as an adjective, “I’m the principal annoyer at work.”

(The funds you never touch are your main funds, so they’re “the principal”: “Never touch the principal, only the interest.”)   

“Principle” is always a noun: “the principle,” referring to a fundamental law, concept, or tenet. “We acted on the principle.” Never an adjective.  

The two share no common ground. 

This is fun. We love talking about this stuff. If you have a question, let us know. We may use it for a future tip.