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The principal idea is that decisions should be made by the people who are most knowledgeable about specific circumstances that impact the decision.
  most important; or person who is most important

(see word notes for more detailed definitions based on context)
 Mark word for later review on this computer
principal principals principally
Strongly Associated with:   principle, principal-agent problem
The exact meaning of principal is often subject to its context. For example:
  • "the principal idea" or "the principal performer" — the most important
  • "the principal of the school" - the person in charge
  • "a principal of a company" — an owner or person with controlling authority
  • "the principal in a transaction" (as contrasted to the agent) — the person on whose behalf an agent acts

Do not confuse this with principle which most commonly refers to a basic belief.
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  • The principal idea is that decisions should be made by the people who are most knowledgeable about specific circumstances that impact the decision.
  • The singer was the principal performer; though the whole band was good.
  • I remember how to spell principal (in contrast to principle) by thinking of the person in charge at my school as being a "pal".
  • Her card indicates that she is both a CPA and a principal of the firm.

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  • I am not confident that the agent is acting in the best interest of the principal.
  • Then the king begins to work his jaw again, and says how him and his nieces would be glad if a few of the main principal friends of the family would take supper here with them this evening, and...
    Mark Twain  --  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • BEN: Principally diamond mines.
    Arthur Miller  --  Death of a Salesman
  • Keep it not; you cannot choose but lose by’t: out with’t! within ten years it will make itself ten, which is a goodly increase; and the principal itself not much the worse: away with it!
    William Shakespeare  --  All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Can you remember any of the principal evils that he laid to the charge of women?
    William Shakespeare  --  As You Like It
  • Oh, I have no special business; my principal object was to make your acquaintance.
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky  --  The Idiot

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  • And indeed to avoid so monstrous and detestable a sight was one principal motive of my retirement hither.
    Jonathan Swift  --  Gulliver’s Travels
  • At balls he danced principally with her.
    Leo Tolstoy  --  Anna Karenina
  • —He means a ball having the form of the ellipsoid of the principal axes of which I spoke a moment ago.
    James Joyce  --  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • An aunt of my father’s, and consequently a great-aunt of mine, of whom I shall have more to relate by and by, was the principal magnate of our family.
    Charles Dickens  --  David Copperfield
  • Little boys were sent out into the principal streets of Dublin early on Friday morning with bundles of handbills.
    James Joyce  --  Dubliners
  • "You’ll never see Fanny Robin no more—use nor principal—ma’am."
    Thomas Hardy  --  Far from the Madding Crowd
  • A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master’s heavy brows overshadowed his eyes.
    Charles Dickens  --  Hard Times
  • [Straker looks at his principal with cool scepticism; then turns to the car whistling his favorite air].
    George Bernard Shaw  --  Man And Superman
  • She was again roused from disagreeable musings by sudden footsteps: somebody was coming at a quick pace down the principal walk.
    Jane Austen  --  Mansfield Park
  • So they sat at the table and wrote three letters of excusal, Mr. Samsa to his employers, Mrs. Samsa to her contractor and Grete to her principal.
    Franz Kafka  --  Metamorphosis
  • Kate blushed as she mentioned her principal acquirements, and Mrs Nickleby checked them all off, one by one, on her fingers; having calculated the number before she came out.
    Charles Dickens  --  Nicholas Nickleby
  • Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.
    Jane Austen  --  Northanger Abbey
  • I do not think any young woman has a right to make a choice that may be disagreeable and inconvenient to the principal part of her family, and be giving bad connections to those who have not been used to them.
    Jane Austen  --  Persuasion
  • He did not choose any back street to-day, but rode slowly, with uplifted head and free glances, along the principal street all the way to the bridge.
    George Eliot  --  The Mill on the Floss
  • Principal rivers—there ARE none.
    Lewis Carroll  --  Through the Looking-Glass
  • In the meantime, the squire and the captain stayed on deck, and the latter hailed the coxswain, who was the principal man aboard.
    Robert Louis Stevenson  --  Treasure Island
  • His wife had been a reasonable woman, but she was a bright exception; among several things that he was sure of, this was perhaps the principal.
    Henry James  --  Washington Square
  • It was what they principally sought and admired on their occasional travels abroad; considering architecture and painting as subjects for men, and chiefly for learned persons who read Ruskin.
    Edith Wharton  --  The Age of Innocence
  • The hall was a third full of summer students and teachers, and men who might have been doctors or school-principals.
    Sinclair Lewis  --  Arrowsmith
  • I had brought over a few curiosities, among which the principal was a purse made of the asbestos, which purifies by fire.
    Benjamin Franklin  --  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • They deputed two of their principal people with all expedition to inquire into the truth of the matter; these executed their commission like men of sense, and soon returned with good news.
    Voltaire  --  Candide
  • So these two Kings and two Queens with the principal members of their court, rode a-hunting with horns and hounds in the Western Woods to follow the White Stag.
    C.S. Lewis  --  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • It pleases my Highness principally to be obeyed, old mutterer.
    C.S. Lewis  --  The Silver Chair
  • The principal entrance, which had almost the breadth of a church-door, was in the angle between the two front gables, and was covered by an open porch, with benches beneath its shelter.
    Nathaniel Hawthorne  --  The House of the Seven Gables
  • But these are the principal masses which were then to be distinguished when the eye began to accustom itself to this tumult of edifices.
    Victor Hugo  --  The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Her voice faded away, but Miss Bartlett seemed to understand and a conversation developed, in which gentlemen who did not thoroughly realize played a principal part.
    E.M. Forster  --  A Room With A View
  • The principal set-piece is a great double bed which should be raked towards the audience.
    Tennessee Williams  --  A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Did you know that your employer, Mr. Ratchett, was the principal instigator in that affair?
    Agatha Christie  --  Murder On The Orient Express
  • For Bobby, as he was to learn before nightfall, was their principal suspect.
    Truman Capote  --  In Cold Blood
  • A round robin was prepared and sent in to the principal, asking for a remission of Sue’s punishment.
    Thomas Hardy  --  Jude the Obscure
  • I will add the rest of what I have to say about my friend, that he was skilled in all kinds of music, but principally pipe-music; was a well-considered poet in his own tongue; had read several books both in French and English; was a dead shot, a good angler, and an excellent fencer with the small sword as well as with his own particular weapon.
    Robert Louis Stevenson  --  Kidnapped
  • The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour.
    Thomas Hobbes  --  Leviathan
  • The smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work they did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides.
    Louisa May Alcott  --  Little Women
  • He blushed at the compliment of his landlord, who had already turned to the doctor, and was enumerating to him, one after the other, all the principal inhabitants of Yonville.
    Gustave Flaubert  --  Madame Bovary
  • He only knew that he had first borrowed two hundred dollars, then another hundred, then fifty—that each time a bonus was added to the principal, and the debt grew faster than any crop he planted.
    Willa Cather  --  My Antonia
  • It’s not the principal I’m worried about, it’s the interest and taxes.
    Willa Cather  --  O Pioneers!
  • After Mr. Turton, the official who did his duty best was Mr. Fielding, the Principal of the little Government College.
    E.M. Forster  --  A Passage to India
  • Tom was conducted to the principal apartment of a noble suite, and made to sit down—a thing which he was loth to do, since there were elderly men and men of high degree about him.
    Mark Twain  --  The Prince and The Pauper
  • Places of honour had been kept for the Miss Lammeters near the head of the principal tea-table in the wainscoted parlour, now looking fresh and pleasant with handsome branches of holly, yew, and laurel, from the abundant growths of the old garden; and Nancy felt an inward flutter, that no firmness of purpose could prevent, when she saw Mr. Godfrey Cass advancing to lead her to a seat between himself and Mr. Crackenthorp, while Priscilla was called to the opposite side between herů
    George Eliot  --  Silas Marner
  • Its principal element was daring backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex.
    Theodore Dreiser  --  Sister Carrie
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Associated words [difficulty]:   principal [1] , principle [1]
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