skip to Main Content
 +46 8 791 8944

The World Law Dictionary Project

English may be the common language of the world, but the Common Law is not the common law of the world

That’s why, in a unique project, TransLegal has teamed up with leading law schools from around the world to create an online multilingual law dictionary linking the world’s legal languages to a single English law dictionary.

e.g. principle, consideration, jurisdiction
# a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

larceny noun

theft/stealing, especially (in the US) the crime of taking something that does not belong to you with the intention never to return it to its owner
He pleaded not guilty to larceny and is awaiting trial.

Hello, I'm Robin, welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week. And today I'm going to talk about the differences between the terms robbery, burglary, theft and larceny. All of these are takings, but they are distinguished by the means, the methods and the victims of these takings.

We will start with theft and larceny. These two words are synonymous and they refer to the simple taking of anything of value with an intent to permanently deprive the owner, that is an intent to keep whatever you've stolen. Common examples of theft and larceny are, for instance, shoplifting, taking something from a store. And there are several degrees of theft and larceny. Unlike in other crimes when we talk about first degree, second degree, third degree to explain the seriousness of the crime, usually when we talk about theft and larceny we talk about grand larceny or petty theft and the difference between a grand and a petty crime when it comes to theft and larceny is usually about five hundred American dollars depending on the jurisdiction. So, for instance, if you steal a few paperback books from a bookstore you will probably be charged with petty larceny. However, if you steal a car from an open public parking lot you will probably be charged with grand larceny, otherwise known as grand theft auto.

Now if we add another element to the taking crime, if we add the element of an unlawful entry, then you get a burglary, and unlawful entry is sometimes called breaking and entering or housebreaking, but it is also an element of a burglary and when you burgle, as you would do in British English, or burglarize a premises, it means you have entered that premises to take something or to otherwise commit another crime.

Now the last one on our list, robbery, which is often deemed to be the most serious, is a foreceable stealing from a person. This time we're adding a person. In the previous examples, we stole a car from an open parking lot, no people there. We stole books from a store, there might have been people around, but we didn't do the taking from a person. Now we are actually adding real or threatened physical force.

So, for instance, a mugging, when you hold somebody up on the street, in public, that's an example of a robbery. A purse snatching when you steal somebody's purse from their body, that's a robbery. A car-jacking when you steal a car with somebody in it, that's another example of a robbery. Or one of the most popular robberies these days, stealing a mobile phone from somebody's hand or pocket, that's also a robbery. Now the actual threat or force does not have to be real. All it needs to be is threatened or assumed by the victim. So, for instance, when I was robbed some years ago, the robber came over to me and he said 'give me your wallet and don't turn around because my friend is standing in back of you with a gun pointed at your head'. So I gave him my wallet and ran away. When I called the police and explained it they said, oh well when we catch that guy, we're going to charge him with robbery. It doesn't matter if there ever was another person there who was pointing a gun or not. What matters is that you felt threatened and you perceived that there was going to be force. So, anyway, all you have to do is be afraid that someone will use force against you to have it be a robbery.

Now just so that you know, the names of people that commit these crimes. If you commit a theft and larceny, you are a thief. If you commit a burglary, you're a burglar. If you commit a robbery, you're a robber.

Now let's hope you don't meet any of these people and I would also like to thank you for listening and make sure that you have your phones and your other personal valuables close to you in case a robber happens to come on the scene. But if you have any other questions about this lesson please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and we will respond to you. Thanks a lot.

This is a limited preview!

To see an example of a full dictionary entry click one of the example entries

jurisdiction consideration principal

Phrase Bank

Additional Notes

Common Mistakes

Close search


Back To Top

Expand your Legal English vocabulary word by word

Online and free each and every week!