Vocabulary for Talking About Crime

The following words and terms may frequently appear when studying, reading about, or discussing Crime. We briefly explain what they mean and give you examples to learn how to use them. Learning this subject specific terminology is a great way to improve your performance in exams such as IELTS, GRE, SAT, LSAT, Civil Services, and Banking.



An assault is a physical, violent or sexual attack on someone.

e.g. The woman was assaulted in the robbery and suffered an injury to her arm.


Blackmail is when you insist on a payment or other benefit for keeping something secret or not revealing information that might be harmful to someone's reputation.

e.g. He was able to blackmail the senator with the photos he took of him taking drugs.


Arson is when you set fire to something illegally.

e.g. The fire at the church is a suspected case of arson. Firefighters found explosive material at the scene.


Robbery is the act of taking objects or property that do(es) not belong to you.

e.g. There was a robbery last night at the shop, where two masked men took a large amount of cash.


A burglary is a robbery that takes place due to someone entering a property with the intention of stealing something.

e.g. Our home was burgled while we were on holidays. They took our TV and all of my jewelry.


Fraud is a deliberate act intended to confuse or deceive someone else.

e.g. Do you realise that dressing as a police officer is an act of fraud?


Hacking is the act of obtaining data or information on a computer illegally.

e.g. The company's data has been hacked and thousands of users' personal information is at risk.


Hijacking is gaining control of an airplane or other vehicle while it is in motion, usually by using a weapon or force.

e.g. The terrorist attempted to hijack the plane, but the crew and fellow passengers stopped him.


To kidnap someone means the same as ‘to abduct’ - it means capturing a person and holding them, usually to receive a payment (a ransom).

e.g. Rumors of a gang kidnapping children in the area have led to widespread fear among the community.


Mugging is when someone is attacked or robbed in a public place outdoors. Usually there is a weapon or dangerous object.

e.g. Some tourists carry fake wallets to avoid being mugged.


Murder is when you deliberately kill another person.

e.g. Murders have gone down since gun laws were tightened.


Shoplifting is the act of robbing items from a shop or commercial place.

e.g. A kleptomaniac is a person addicted to the thrill of shoplifting.


A vandal is a person who deliberately destroys or damages public property.

e.g. Do you think street art is a valid form of art or just vandalism?


A ‘thief’ is someone who commits the act of burglary or robbery.

e.g. A thief on the train stole my passport.


In Ireland and the UK, a solicitor is a legal professional who is qualified to create legal paperwork, give legal advice or occasionally represent people in court. In the US the term ‘lawyer’ is used for both a solicitor and a barrister.

e.g. In order to make a will, you will need to visit a solicitor.


A barrister is someone who has expert legal knowledge and is able to take cases in courts and argue them.

e.g. The barrister put forward a convincing argument against the accused.

charged with

If you are ‘charged with’ something it means you are officially notified that you have broken the law.

e.g. She was arrested and charged with robbery.


In legal terms, to ‘appeal’ something means to ask for a decision or case to be reconsidered or reviewed.

e.g. They brought the case to a higher court and asked for an appeal.


Imprisonment is the act of being detained or put in prison.

e.g. Anyone who fails to pay their taxes is at risk of being fined or even facing imprisonment.


A penalty is a punishment issued as a result of braking the law or committing an offence.

e.g. Drivers caught speeding will receive a penalty fine of $80.


A fine is a financial payment required due to breaking the law or committing an offence.

e.g. If you do not have a license for your dog, you could be liable to pay a fine.

break the law

To ‘break the law’ means to disobey a law or to commit a crime or to do something illegal.

e.g. Police are there to enforce order and to reprimand those who break the law.


Speeding is the act of deliberately breaking or exceeding the legal speed limit.

e.g. If you are caught speeding you can receive a ticket and a fine, automatically.

go to jail

Jail is an American word meaning the same as ‘prison’. If you ‘go to jail’ it means you are in the custody of the prison system and detained by the state. A less formal way of saying ‘go to jail’ is to ‘be behind bars’.

e.g. If the court case is lost, you are in danger of going to jail


Pirating is the act of reproducing the work or art of someone else without permission, or to fail to obey copyright laws or patents.

e.g. The DVDs and games you will find in the market are all pirated copies.


Embezzlement is stealing money you have been entrusted with by an employer, or using it in an inappropriate way.

e.g. The junior banker was charged with embezzlement for using clients' money for unsound investments.


A Judge is a person appointed to decide on the outcome of cases in court.

e.g. The judge looked favorably on the evidence the barrister presented to support her argument.


A jury is a group of citizens who are in court to make a verdict or decision on a legal matter, or decide if someone is guilty or not.

e.g. The jury took a long time to come to a decision but finally arrived at a verdict of ‘not guilty’.

commit an offence

To ‘commit an offence’ means to break the law in some way, usually minor.

e.g. If you have never committed an offence before, the judge will be more forgiving.

to prosecute

To prosecute someone means to begin legal proceedings against another person, company or organisation.

e.g. If you do not stop this behavior, I will have no option but to prosecute.

to be convicted

If someone is ‘convicted’, it means they have been found guilty of an offence.

e.g. You must let us know if you have ever been convicted of a crime.

house arrest

If you are under ‘house arrest’ it means you do not go to jail, but you must stay in a particular area close to your home for a period of time.

e.g. The gang member is under house arrest for up to three years.

to call a witness

In court you might need to ‘call a witness’ to give evidence for or against something or someone. To ‘witness’ something means to see it. When you ‘call a witness’ you invite someone who saw or heard something to share their information.

e.g. I would like to call a witness to the stand to prove that John was not at home at the time of the robbery.

A ban on

A ‘ban’ is the act of legally forbidding something.

e.g. A ban on chewing gum would decrease spending on street cleaning.

to commit a crime

To ‘commit a crime’ is an expression meaning to break the law or be responsible for a crime.

e.g. If you commit a crime you are more than likely going to be caught.

an investigation

An investigation is an official legal examination of facts or evidence.

e.g. During an investigation three warehouses were found, containing illegal drugs and weapons.

crime scene

A crime scene is the area in which a crime took place, which needs to be preserved in order to collect evidence.

e.g. The whole road was blocked off as it was now considered a crime scene by the police.


A detective is a person whose job it is to examine crime scenes or to uncover evidence and solve mysteries or crimes.

e.g. I think that might be an important piece of information. You should bring it to the attention of the detective.

DNA evidence

DNA is biological information unique to each living thing. DNA evidence can link someone to an object or to a crime scene.

e.g. DNA evidence shows the culprit is a man with blond hair.


An alarm is an electronic device that creates sound or notifies others of danger when triggered.

e.g. Each home should be fitted with a smoke alarm to detect fires.


If something is ‘legal’, it is within the law or permitted.


Something which is ‘illegal’ is ‘against the law’ or not permitted.

human trafficking

Human trafficking is the act of trading humans for work, slavery, sex work, exploitation, or illegally removing organs or human tissue.

e.g. Customs at airports must be vigilant about possible human trafficking and look for signs of people in distress.


Trespassing is the act of entering private land or property without permission.

e.g. Farmers will often allow you to walk on their land as long as you are careful to close gates properly, but beware of any signs that might indicate you are trespassing.

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