Principle definition for kids

Principle - Definition, Meaning & Synonyms


A principle is a kind of rule, belief, or idea that guides you. You can also say a good, ethical person has a lot of principles.

In general, a principle is some kind of basic truth that helps you with your life. "Be fair" is a principle that guides (or should guide) most people and businesses. A politician who tries to do the right thing rather than win votes is acting on principle. A person who has principles is a good, decent person. On the other hand, if you say someone has no principles, that means they're dishonest, corrupt, or evil.

Definitions of principle

  1. noun

    a basic generalization that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct

    “their principles of composition characterized all their works”

    synonyms: rule, tenet
  2. noun

    a basic truth or law or assumption

    “the principles of democracy”

  3. noun

    a rule or standard especially of good behavior

    “a man of principle

    “he will not violate his principles

  4. noun

    rule of personal conduct

    synonyms: precept
  5. noun

    a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the function of a complex system

    “the principle of the conservation of mass”

    “the principle of jet propulsion”

    synonyms: rule
  6. noun

    (law) an explanation of the fundamental reasons (especially an explanation of the working of some device in terms of laws of nature)

    “the principles of internal-combustion engines”

    synonyms: rationale

Commonly confused words

principal / principle

If offered a choice, would you rather have principles or principals?

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Principle Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

prin·​ci·​ple ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl 




: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption


: a rule or code of conduct


: habitual devotion to right principles

a man of principle


: the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device


: a primary source : origin



: an underlying faculty or endowment

such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity


: an ingredient (such as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality


capitalized Christian Science : a divine principle : god

Principle vs. Principal: Usage Guide

Evidence of confusion between principle and principal can be found even in publications overseen by professional editors. To keep these words straight, remember that principle functions only as a noun, and in its most common uses refers to a basic rule or law, as in

a guiding principle


a matter of principle.

If you are looking for an adjective form of this word, you must use principled, as in

taking a principled stand.

Principal functions as both a noun and an adjective. The noun has various meanings referring to someone with controlling authority

the school principal

or in a leading position

the ballet's two principals

, but also has meanings relating to finance, law, and architecture. As an adjective, principal typically means "most important," as in

the principal reason.


in principle

: with respect to fundamentals

prepared to accept the proposition in principle


  • ABC(s)
  • alphabet
  • basics
  • elements
  • essentials
  • fundamentals
  • grammar
  • rudiments

See all Synonyms & Antonyms in Thesaurus 

Example Sentences

Urban guerrilla warfare was futile against a thermonuclear superstate that would stop at nothing to defend the profit principle. —Philip Roth, American Pastoral, 1997 Better, of course, to take a higher road, operate on the principle of service and see if things don't turn out better … —Richard Ford, Independence Day, 1995 Pointlessness was life's principle, and it spread its sadness. —Arthur Miller, Timebends, 1987

His investment strategy is based on the principle that the stock market offers the best returns for long-term investors. the basic principles of hydraulics

Recent Examples on the Web That was a major break from its strictly self-defense-only postwar principle. —Hyung-jin Kim,, 18 Dec. 2022 That was a major break from its strictly self-defense-only postwar principle. —Time, 18 Dec. 2022 For Alejandro, his guiding principle is making music for Puerto Ricans. —Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone, 8 Dec. 2022 Dellinger was one of the Union Eight, a group of students from the left-leaning Christian Union Theological Seminary who refused to register for the draft on principle. —Chris Vognar, Los Angeles Times, 8 Dec. 2022 Election is based on a principle of fair geographical distribution. —Annalisa Merelli, Quartz, 30 Nov. 2022 His second principle, however, is both an acknowledgment of the post-Jan. —Rafi Schwartz, The Week, 21 Nov. 2022 His operating principle since The Song of the Dodo had been to hop on a plane. —Joshua Sokol, The Atlantic, 21 Nov. 2022 If there’s a price presented, send your regrets on principle. —Michelle Singletary, Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'principle.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at prince

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler

The first known use of principle was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry



“ Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jan. 2023.

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Kids Definition



prin·​ci·​ple ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl 



: a general or basic truth on which other truths or theories can be based

scientific principles


: a rule of conduct

a person of high principles


: a law or fact of nature which makes possible the working of a machine or device

the principle of magnetism

the principle of the lever

Medical Definition



prin·​ci·​ple ˈprin(t)-sə-pəl 


: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption


: an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality

the active principle of a drug

More from Merriam-Webster on


Nglish: Translation of principle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of principle for Arabic Speakers

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How to define your life principles?


You have probably come across the phrases “I will go on principle”, “it is fundamental / unprincipled for me”, but it is unlikely that you seriously thought about their meaning. It's time to figure out what principles are, what they are, and how to define your own.

Life principles are internal rules that you follow in life. They define boundaries for both you and those around you - what, for example, is never allowed to yourself and others, and what is important. Understanding your principles gives you confidence. For example, you know exactly in which cases certain actions will bring more benefit, and what, on the contrary, will harm, and then no one will lead you astray. The principles have been compared to a hard bed, which is uncomfortable to sleep on, but which forms a good spine. nine0003

The principles can be very different, as they cover all areas of life, for example:

  • never lie
  • respect parents
  • Always give up your seat in transport to the elderly
  • do not judge/discuss anyone
  • do not offend intentionally
  • keep the word
  • don't gossip
  • do not put things off until later
  • do not swear
  • keep clothes in order
  • always be responsible for your actions
  • finish what you started
  • help those who need it.

What are your principles?

How to define your principles
  • Remember the actions that you are proud of and those that you are ashamed of.
  • Answer the questions:

a) What will I never do, even for a few million, even if my cherished dream comes true?

b) What can I do even if it is very difficult?

  • For a few days, treat others the way you would like to be treated. Note how you did it.
  • Analyze your favorite poems, songs, books - what touches your heart?
  • Remember difficult life situations: how did you act, and how would a person you respected act?

Principles are the foundation on which life is built. You are confident when you act according to these rules, because you act according to your ideas of good and evil. It is the principles that will help to make a decision even in the most complicated situations. nine0003

Can principles be changed?

Life is changing, which means that the principles need to be revised: you need to approach them critically, rethinking their correctness in each specific case.

Principles are often spoken of negatively, equating them with whims and stubbornness: "He rests on principle." In this case, it is necessary to clearly define: is this a conscious position or just “I want and I will”?

Following the principles requires a lot of effort, but at the same time gives support and the ability to effectively manage your life. Whether it's worth it or not, everyone decides for himself. nine0003

If you have not decided on your principles, call the Children's Helpline 88002000122 - our specialists will help you.

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Child rights - declaration - declaration, convention, agreement and other legal materials

adopted by resolution 1386 (XIV) General Assembly of the UN 1959


Considering that the peoples of the United Nations have reaffirmed in the Charter their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and are determined to promote social progress and better living conditions in greater freedom,

Considering Note that the United Nations, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has proclaimed that every human being shall have all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property status, birth or other circumstance,

considering that the child, due to his physical and mental immaturity, needs special protection and care, including appropriate legal protection, both before and after birth,

considering that the need for such special protection was specified in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the statutes of the specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children,

Considering that humanity has an obligation to give the best to the child,

The General Assembly

proclaims this Declaration of the Rights of the Child with the object of securing to children a happy childhood and enjoyment, for their own good and for the good of society, the rights and freedoms herein provided for, and calls upon parents, men and women as individuals, and voluntary organizations, local authorities and national governments, to recognize and endeavor to respect these rights through legislative and other measures progressively adopted in accordance with with the following principles:

Principle 1

The child should have all the rights set forth in this Declaration. These rights must be recognized for all children, without exception and without distinction or discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status relating to the child or his family.

Principle 2

The child shall be accorded special protection, by law and by other means, and provided with opportunities and facilities to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal way and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In legislating for this purpose, the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration. nine0003

Principle 3

The child should have the right to a name and a nationality from birth.

Principle 4

The child should enjoy the benefits of social security. He should have the right to healthy growth and development; to this end, special care and protection must be provided to both him and his mother, including adequate prenatal and postnatal care. The child should have the right to adequate food, housing, entertainment and medical care. nine0003

Principle 5

A child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped must be provided with the special treatment, education and care necessary in view of his special condition.

Principle 6

A child needs love and understanding for the full and harmonious development of his personality. He should, whenever possible, grow up in the care and responsibility of his parents, and in any case in an atmosphere of love and moral and material security; a minor child shall not, except in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother. Society and public authorities should be obliged to take special care of children who do not have a family and children who do not have sufficient means of subsistence. It is desirable that families with many children be provided with state or other allowances for the maintenance of children. nine0003

Principle 7

The child has the right to education, which should be free and compulsory, at least in the early stages. He must be given an education which will contribute to his general cultural development and by which he may, on the basis of equality of opportunity, develop his abilities and personal judgment, as well as the consciousness of moral and social responsibility, and become a useful member of society.

The best interests of the child should be the guiding principle for those who have responsibility for his education and training; this responsibility rests primarily with his parents. nine0003

The child must be provided with full opportunities for play and entertainment, which would be directed to the goals pursued by education; society and public authorities should make efforts to promote the implementation of this right.

Principle 8

The child must in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and assistance.

Principle 9

The child must be protected from all forms of neglect, abuse and exploitation. It must not be traded in any form.

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