Burglar, Thief, Robber...???

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lobelia.ophrys

Senior Member
French
Hello everybody,

I'm wondering what's the difference between these three words?

I'm actually looking for the right word to designate someone who robs a museum for example (something of great value).

Thank you very much!
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Hello acid...burn.

    As the dictionary definitions tell us, the difference between these words is in the differing methods the person uses to get what isn't theirs. What do you have in mind?
     

    jurijunichi

    New Member
    Mandarin
    Here's my thought on this.

    thief: a person who steals things, whatever things may be
    burglar: someone who breaks into others' house to steal things
    robber: someone who steals from the bank, or shops

    Any corrections, everyone?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Here's my thought on this.

    thief: a person who steals things, whatever things may be
    burglar: someone who breaks into others' house to steal things
    robber: someone who steals from the bank, or shops

    Any corrections, everyone?
    I think this is a pretty good general division. It is still always best to give us more specific information about the crime you are describing, so we can help talk about which word best in the particular situation you have in mind. :)
     
    A thread which was opened today and then locked by a moderator provided a link to this thread as providing answers to today's question.

    Since this thread is still open, and likely to be linked again, I would like to correct the erroneous information provided above.

    It is correct that a thief is someone who steals something.

    A burglar is someone who commits the crime of burglary. The classic definition of "burglary" in the common law was "The breaking and entering the house of another in the night time, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felony be actually committed or not." This common law definition has often been changed by local statute over time; for example, in my own state of New York, burglary may be committed in the daytime as well as the night, it may be committed in commercial premises as well as just dwelling houses, and it may also involve entering without actually breaking in (such as entering through an open door.) The important factor is the intent of the burglar: he wants to commit a crime in the building he has entered. Now, the most common crime intended by burglars is theft -- but if a person entered your house intending to beat you up, or rape you, or vandalize your property, that would also be the intention to commit a crime, and so his action is burglary and he is a burglar. Also note that the crime does not have to be completed -- if he came into your house to steal your diamond necklace while you happened to be wearing it at the opera, and so he left without taking anything, he would not be a thief, but he would still be a burglar.

    A robber is someone who commits the crime of robbery. Robbery has absolutely nothing to do with whether things were stolen from banks or shops. Instead, the common law definition of robbery was "the felonious and violent taking of any money or goods from the person of another, putting him in fear." Again, this definition has been changed by local statues, but the general concept is that robbery is the taking of the property of another with the intent of stealing it, and that taking is accomplished through the use either of force or the threat of force. A person who steals a wristwatch from a shop by slipping it into his pocket and walking out is a thief, and a shoplifter, but not a robber. On the other hand, a person who comes up to you on the street, displays a knife and threatens you with it unless you give him your wristwatch, and then runs away with the watch, is definitely a robber. The reason that one speaks of people who rob banks is that a bank robber usually shows a weapon, or hands over a note making a threat -- and thus uses force or a threat of force in order to get the bank employee to hand over the bank's money.
     
    Last edited:

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    So, can "a robber" who robbed a bank also called "a thief"? Thanks.
    No. A prosecutor would never bring this case to trial for 'theft'.
    A prosecutor might not, but in ordinary (British) English, the person could well be called a thief, and I cannot help recalling the Great Train Robbery sketch from Beyond the Fringe:
    Interviewer (Alan Bennett): Who do you think may have perpetrated this awful crime?
    Sir Arthur Gappy, Deputy Head of New Scotland Yard (Peter Cook): We believe this to be the work of thieves.​

    GWB's post #5 is correct, but few people have more than a vague awareness of the distinctions.
    Most people would associate theft from a bank with "robbery", and call the person who did it a "bank robber". They certainly would not call the person a "bank thief", but they might simply call them a "thief". In Britain, theft from a house is commonly called "burglary" and the person who did it is a "burglar", but they are just as likely to be called a "thief" in ordinary conversation.
     

    Emma Neve

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hi everybody! Could we add "pickpocket", "mugger" and "shoplifter" to the list?
    And I also have a question: how would you call someone who steals, say, a woman's shoulder bag by grabbing it and then running away?
    Thank you very much
    Emma :)
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    And I also have a question: how would you call someone who steals, say, a woman's shoulder bag by grabbing it and then running away?
    If no physical violence is involved, a thief, although in BrE we also have the term bag-snatcher. The woman may later refer to the person as a mugger, but mugging really involves some sort of physical attack, or a threat of a physical attack, and in ordinary English, a person can be a mugger even if they don't succeed in stealing anything.

    Shoplifter is straightforward. It is theft of goods from a shop/store. It only applies to the theft of goods offered for sale, not money or goods in a storeroom, and if it involves threats or violence then it isn't shoplifting. Shoplifting is always furtive/secretive.

    A pickpocket is equally furtive, not wishing to be detected. Strictly speaking it involves stealing items from a person's pocket, but it is usually extended to stealing things from a handbag, and occasionally from elsewhere about the person. However snatching a handbag is not pickpocketing.
     

    Emma Neve

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Thank you Uncle Jack! As a matter of fact, "thief" was the word I had in mind for my example but I just wanted to make sure. I didn't know about the term "bag-snatcher". You also provided a very clear explanation of the other terms so, again, thank you very much for your help!
    Emma :) :thank you:
     
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