in principle


  1. an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.
  2. a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived: the principles of modern physics.
  3. a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion: the principles of the Stoics.
  4. principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one’s principles; a kindergarten run on modern principles.
  5. guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct: a person of principle.
  6. an adopted rule or method for application in action: a working principle for general use.
  7. a rule or law exemplified in natural phenomena, the construction or operation of a machine, the working of a system, or the like: the principle of capillary attraction.
  8. the method of formation, operation, or procedure exhibited in a given case: a community organized on the patriarchal principle.
  9. a determining characteristic of something; essential quality.
  10. an originating or actuating agency or force: growth is the principle of life.
  11. an actuating agency in the mind or character, as an instinct, faculty, or natural tendency: the principles of human behavior.
  12. Chemistry. a constituent of a substance, especially one giving to it some distinctive quality or effect.
  13. Obsolete. beginning or commencement.
  1. in principle, in essence or substance; fundamentally: to accept a plan in principle.
  2. on principle,
    1. according to personal rules for right conduct; as a matter of moral principle: He refused on principle to agree to the terms of the treaty.
    2. according to a fixed rule, method, or practice: He drank hot milk every night on principle.


  1. Christian Science another word for God


  1. a standard or rule of personal conducta man of principle
  2. (often plural) a set of such moral ruleshe’d stoop to anything; he has no principles
  3. adherence to such a moral code; moralityit’s not the money but the principle of the thing; torn between principle and expediency
  4. a fundamental or general truth or lawfirst principles
  5. the essence of somethingthe male principle
  6. a source or fundamental cause; originprinciple of life
  7. a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the behaviour of a systemthe principle of the conservation of mass
  8. an underlying or guiding theory or beliefthe hereditary principle; socialist principles
  9. chem a constituent of a substance that gives the substance its characteristics and behaviourbitter principle
  10. in principle in theory or essence
  11. on principle because of or in demonstration of a principle

late 14c., “origin, source, beginning; rule of conduct; axiom, basic assumption; elemental aspect of a craft or discipline,” from Anglo-French principle, Old French principe “origin, cause, principle,” from Latin principium (plural principia) “a beginning, commencement, origin, first part,” in plural “foundation, elements,” from princeps (see prince). Used absolutely for (good or moral) principle from 1650s.

It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them. [Adlai Stevenson, speech, New York City, Aug. 27, 1952]

Scientific sense of “general law of nature” is recorded from 1802. The English -l- apparently is by analogy of participle, etc.


  1. A basic truth, law, or assumption.
  2. A rule or law concerning the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes.
  3. One of the elements composing a chemical compound, especially one that gives some special quality or effect.
  4. The essential ingredient in a drug.

Fundamentally, in general, but not necessarily in all particulars. For example, The diplomats accepted the idea in principle but would rely on experts to work out all the details. [Early 1800s]

see in principle; on principle.

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