abduction vs kidnapping

  • meowser

    Senior Member
    Flemish and English (midwest U.S.)
    As I understand it...

    abduction - taking an adult against their will
    kidnapping - taking a child

    There is such a thing as kidnapping one's own child, though. So it doesn't have to be against the child's will.


    Senior Member
    English - Barbadian/British/educated in US universities blend
    Kidnapping does not necessarily have to involve a child. Adults can be kidnapped as well. All of the definitions I have seen just say "a person" not "a child".

    Setwale_Charm, as far as I remember, I use them interchangeably.


    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    To know if there is a difference in the legal definitions, it would be best to consult a lawyer or legal translator. In everyday usage, they are interchangeable.

    The Slippery Slide

    Senior Member
    British English
    To my ear, there are differences.

    I think kidnap is usually used when talking about hostages - people being held in order to secure ransom money or for political reasons. Abducted is possible, but not so likely in this context.

    If we were talking about a child or person being taken for unknown reasons, with the possibility of it being a personal attack (sex, revenge, murder, etc.) we would almost always say abducted. News reports certainly don't use kidnap in relation to such stories.

    I'm not saying they can't be exchanged, but I'm pretty sure that's the general pattern.
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    New Member
    Kidnap: to steal, carry off, or abduct by force or fraud, especially for use as a hostage or to extract ransom.

    Abduction: the illegal carrying or enticing away of a person, especially by interfering with a relationship, as the taking of a child from its parent.

    Kidnapping and Abduction laws vary from state to state, but generally apply to anyone who without lawful authority, forcibly seizes and confines another, with intent to cause such other person to be secretly confined or imprisoned against his will


    Senior Member
    USA English
    Quoting from the previous thread "a kidnapper will bargain for a ransom--whereas an abductor will only take someone--no ransom involved."

    Any comments?

    Sure and just to confuse the matter further see the Wikipedia article on the kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Utah by Brian Mitchell in 2002.

    Mitchell was eventually convicted of kidnapping, but there never was a ransom demand.

    And, as you can see from the aforementioned article, "kidnapping" and "abduction" are used interchangeably to avoid word repetition.


    New Member
    They can be used interchangably, but generally, as other posters have said, abduction carries more sinister connotations.

    To me abduction seems much more likely to end up with the person locked in a basement for years, or found dead somewhere. Kidnapping can also end up like this but there is a (slightly) softer connotation which might imply seeing the person returned relatively unharmed.

    Also kidnapping is almost exclusively used to refer to children, while abducting refers to either children or adults.


    Senior Member
    To me there is no real difference in meaning.

    I think they may differ in register. "Abduction" belongs to a higher register for me. It is also the word I would more likely use in legal contexts.


    Senior Member
    **Literate** American English
    "Abduction" and "kidnapping" mean the same thing and can be used more or less interchangeably. They are examples of the common phenomenon in English of the perfectly good English word (kidnapping -- it actually comes from Viking times when the Danes ruled half of England) and the new Latinate word meaning exactly the same thing (abduction) but showing off the erudition of its user. This relates to the class system in England after the Norman invasion (French became the language of the upper class, and Latin was known by educated people; so using Latinate words meant you were upper class or trying to be).

    Boozer is right that "abduction" belongs to a higher register. A newspaper might use "abduction" for a mysterious disappearance with no clues and "kidnapping" for a broad-daylight crime.


    Senior Member
    I've always heard "abduction" (never "kidnapping") used in stories about people allegedly taken by extraterrestrials. Like Sedulia has said, for a mysterious disappearance.


    Senior Member
    USA English
    I've always heard "abduction" (never "kidnapping") used in stories about people allegedly taken by extraterrestrials. Like Sedulia has said, for a mysterious disappearance.

    It's used in that context, but there are far more uses.

    See, for example, this site.

    "Parental child abduction" is a substantial international problem, for example.

    That's the case where parents divorce and the parent who has not been given custody by the courts, takes the child and disappears - often across international frontiers.

    And, there's nothing mysterious whatsoever about that.