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principle noun

a basic truth or assumption
The Commission has always followed the principle that the public interest is best served when regulatory affairs are open to the fullest extent possible.
something in principle is possible, although it has not yet been tried or finalised
The parties have reached an agreement in principle.
a basic rule or belief about what is morally correct behaviour
The reasons why torture is wrong can be divided into reasons of pure principle and reasons based on the bad consequences of torture.

Hi, this is Peter and welcome to TransLegal’s Lesson of the Week.

Today I’m going to be talking about ‘principal’ and ‘principle’. As you can hear, they’re both pronounced the same way, but they’re entirely different terms - which leads to some confusion. And this is a mistake that’s made quite often, and my colleagues and I see it on a regular basis.

So, just to start with the nouns: the noun ‘principle’, with an ‘l e’ at the end, means a rule, doctrine, or standard. So an example sentence for that would be something like "A principle of management is that you should treat your employees like you want your employees to treat your customers".

‘Principal’, with an ‘a l’ at the end and as a noun, means a person with an important role or a high position, or a person on whose behalf an agent acts. So some sample sentences for ‘principal’ would be "On Saturday the principals to the contract had a meeting".

Another meaning of the noun, the person on whose behalf an agent acts, comes into play in Legal English when you’re talking about the law of principal and agent, or the law of agency. So you might say that "She serves as an agent for a principal who wishes to remain anonymous".

‘Principal’ with an ‘a l’ at the end can also be used as an adjective. When it’s used as an adjective it’s generally used to describe something as being primary or chief or the most important. So, for example, one sample sentence would be "A faulty fuel line was the principal cause of the engine’s explosion" - so it’s the primary cause in that example.

One final usage of the term ‘principal’ with an ‘a l’ at the end would be in the context of banking, which may come up if you work with financial transactions, and that is ‘principal’ as a sum, particularly the sum that has been borrowed from a bank or lent from a bank, and on which the borrower is making payments. So an example sentence in that regard would be "The borrower was able to make the minimum payment which covered the interest but did not reduce the principal".

That’s it for today. So, as always, if you have any questions about the difference between ‘principle’ and ‘principal’, please leave them in the comments section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Thank you, and see you next week.

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jurisdiction consideration principal

Phrase Bank

This is based on the principle of equality before the law.
They are applying sensible principles of good industrial relations rather than the strict law of contract.
A recent decision of the European Court of Justice has established the principle that a Member State may be liable in damages to persons harmed as a result of its failure to implement a Community directive.
We work on the principle that you should only pay for the services you need.
It was accepted in principle that an employee should be entitled to a statutory reward for his employer's successful exploitation of the product of his inventive labours.
It is a general principle of English law that the decisions of inferior tribunals (such as social security appeal tribunals, industrial tribunals, or immigration appeal tribunals) should be the subject of appeal to the higher courts.
The application of the principles of judicial review vary according to the circumstances.
Activities shall be deemed lawful by reference to a set of principles.
This is consistent with the principles enunciated by Lord Morris in Esso.
We see a significant departure from the principle of absolute sovereignty over domestic matters.

Common Mistakes

Principal and principle are often confused as they have the same pronunciation, but have different meanings. Principle which means doctrine, standard, rule, or law, is nearly always a noun: A principle of management is to treat your employees as you want them to treat your customers.
On the other hand, principal, which means primary, chief, or most important, is both a noun and an adjective, though usually an adjective in non-legal usage: A faulty gasket was the principal reason for the engine's failure.
In general usage, principal refers to a person who plays an important role or holds a high position. In legal and financial English, however, principal is often a noun (from principal person). In the law of agency, the principal is the one on whose behalf the agent acts: She attended the meeting as the agent of a principal who wished to remain anonymous.
In banking the principal (sum) is money invested or borrowed on which interest is paid: The borrower was only able to make the minimum payment, which covered the interest but did not reduce the principal.

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