Could someone please explain this phrase to me: "applies to something in principle".

Thank you.

  • You need to provide addtional context. At least quote the full sentence or paragraph where this phrase appears. You have to cite the source. Ideally link to an online version of the source.
    – James K
    Jul 6, 2019 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


If you say that something is true, or applies, in principle, you are saying that provisionally based on what you know about it so far. You agree in general but have not yet considered the details. No decision has been made.

In principle

(1) As a general idea or plan, although the details are not yet established.

‘the government agreed in principle to a peace plan that included a ceasefire’

(2) Used to indicate that although something is theoretically possible, in reality it may not actually happen.

‘in principle, the banks are entitled to withdraw these loans when necessary’

In principle

  • As a seasoned former bureaucrat , I know that 'Yes. In principle.' generally means 'No'. On a good day, it might mean 'If you have something more convincing to say than I have heard so far, it might be possible...''.
    – JeremyC
    Jul 6, 2019 at 22:01
  • It's the sort of thing Sir Humphrey [character in Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister] would say. But the expression has real-world use. In Britain, certainly, a loan or mortgage application can be agreed "in principle" to enable preliminary/preparatory steps to be taken. Jul 6, 2019 at 23:24

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