1. adjective

the principal cause of poor air quality

main, chief, primary, leading, foremost, first, first-line, most important, predominant, dominant, (most) prominent; key, crucial, vital, essential, basic, prime, central, focal; premier, paramount, major, overriding, cardinal, preeminent, uppermost, highest, top, topmost; informal number-one
2. noun

the principal of the firm

chief, chief executive (officer), CEO, president, chairman, chairwoman, director, managing director, manager, head; informal boss

the school's principal

headmaster, headmistress; dean, rector, chancellor, president, provost

a principal in a soap opera

leading actor/actress, leading player/performer/dancer, leading role, lead, star

repayment of the principal

capital (sum), debt, loan
principal, principle
These two words, though often confused and used incorrectly and interchangeably, share no common definitions. Generally, it's enough to remember that principal (= chief, primary, most important) is usually an adjective and that principle (= a truth, rule, doctrine, or course of action) is virtually always a noun. Although principle is not a verb, we have principled as an adjective. But principal is sometimes a noun — an elliptical form of principal official (Morgan is principal of the elementary school) or principal investment (principal and interest).
Substituting principal for principle is a fairly common blunder — e.g.: "The Ways and Means bill approved today, after more than a month of deliberation and voting, preserves two of the central principals [read principles] put forth by the President: universal coverage and the requirement that employers assume 80 percent of its cost for their workers." (New York Times; July 1, 1994.)
Substituting principle for principal is perhaps even more common — e.g.: "Audio CDs are a principle [read principal] source of material for making music with samples." (Electronic Musician; June 1994.) — BG

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  • principal — principal, ale, aux [ prɛ̃sipal, o ] adj. et n. • 1119; « princier » 1080; lat. principalis « principal, du prince », de princeps I ♦ Adj. 1 ♦ Qui est le plus important, le premier parmi plusieurs. ⇒ 1. capital, essentiel, fondamental, primordial …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • principal — prin·ci·pal 1 / prin sə pəl/ adj 1: being the main or most important, consequential, or influential their principal place of business the principal obligor 2: of, relating to, or constituting principal or a principal the principal amount of the… …   Law dictionary

  • principal — principal, ale 1. (prin si pal, pa l ) adj. 1°   Qui est le plus considérable, en parlant de personnes. Les principaux magistrats. •   Quand on bâtit une maison, quoique les maçons, les charpentiers, les plombiers, les menuisiers travaillent bien …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • principal — Principal, Estre le Principal et plus excellent, Primas partes in re aliqua agere, Principatum tenere. Pansa a esté nostre principal aide et secours, Principem habuimus Pansam. Laquelle chose est la principale et la meilleure, et la plus forte,… …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • Principal — may refer to: Education The head of an educational institution: *Principal (school), head of a primary or secondary school *Principal (university), chief executive of a university **Dean (education), a person with significant authority **Provost… …   Wikipedia

  • principal — PRINCIPÁL, Ă, principali, e, adj. Care are o importanţă deosebită sau cea mai mare importanţă; de căpetenie, de frunte. ♢ (gram.) Propoziţie principală (şi substantivat, f.) = propoziţie independentă dintr o frază, de care depind propoziţiile… …   Dicționar Român

  • Principal — Prin ci*pal, a. [F., from L. principalis. See {Prince}.] 1. Highest in rank, authority, character, importance, or degree; most considerable or important; chief; main; as, the principal officers of a Government; the principal men of a state; the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • principal — (Del lat. principālis). 1. adj. Dicho de una persona o de una cosa: Que tiene el primer lugar en estimación o importancia y se antepone y prefiere a otras. 2. Dicho de una persona: Que es la primera en un negocio o en cuya cabeza está. 3.… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • principal — principal, principle The spellings are occasionally confused even by the wariest users of English, the usual mistake being to use principle for the adjective principal. Principal is an adjective and noun and essentially means ‘chief’ (my… …   Modern English usage

  • principal — [prin′sə pəl] adj. [OFr < L principalis < princeps: see PRINCE] 1. first in rank, authority, importance, degree, etc. 2. that is or has to do with PRINCIPAL (n. 3) n. 1. a principal person or thing; specif., a) a ch …   English World dictionary

  • Principal — Prin ci*pal, n. 1. A leader, chief, or head; one who takes the lead; one who acts independently, or who has controlling authority or influence; as, the principal of a faction, a school, a firm, etc.; distinguished from a {subordinate}, {abettor} …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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