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Principal vs. Principle

If you decide to take the free Grammar Mastery Quiz, you’ll eventually come to #40, which has turned out to be confusing for many.

Question 40: The department’s principal/principle concern is the safety of all employees.

First, let’s figure out what part of speech the word is in the sentence above. Since it describes concern, which is a noun, it must be an adjective. The word principle is used only as a noun. Principal may be either a noun or an adjective. When it is an adjective, principal means “first or highest in rank, importance, value, etc.; chief; foremost.”

Let’s double check. Can we substitute any or all of these definitions for principal in the sentence?

The department’s first/chief/foremost concern is the safety of all employees.

Obviously the answer is yes, so the correct answer is, “The department’s principal concern is the safety of all employees.

Posted on Monday, April 21, 2008, at 9:06 pm


9 Comments

9 Responses to “Principal vs. Principle

  1. DUST!N says:

    I also read that principLE is always a noun. So, if it’s used as an adjective, it should be principAL.

  2. Jane says:

    You’re right!

  3. Brigid DeNeefe says:

    Mmm, you can agree and disagree with this reasoning. Unless you are familiar with the particular workplace in question, you could also argue that “The department principal’s concern”. Are you talking about the person in charge OR their principle ideal. I stick with the following:

    This way of remembering principal vs principle is perhaps a little sexist but I’m over 40 and it is the easiest way: Principal = man (noun), then I know that principle is the ‘other’.

    Just like stationery (letter) versus stationary (car). Too easy

  4. Jane says:

    Do you mean 2008-09? If so, this is fine.

  5. JANE says:

    I have a question. Is it correct to write consecutive years as “2008-90 season” ? I have seen it this way many times, but is it correct to write it this way?

  6. Kristen says:

    -ASD is an European organization
    -The AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of
    Europe, ASD, …

    Is the first bullet correct grammar? (is AN organization, or is A European)

    • Jane says:

      A European, not an European, is correct. You use an when the word following begins with a vowel sound. In this case, European starts with yu, a vowel sound. Click here to see a vs. an under “Confusing Words and Homonyms.”

  7. Juliet Tristan says:

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