Burgle vs Break Into

NevenaT

Senior Member
Serbian/Croatian
I was doing an exercise in the book Face to Face by Cambridge, and there's a lesson about crime, some vocabulary and an exercise (these are the correct answers):

'The car was broken into and the radio was stolen.'
'The house was burgled and the thieves stole the jewellery.'

What exactly is the difference between 'break into' and 'burgle', because in the key it says only 'broken into' can be used in the first one, although 'burgled' was also an option?
 
  • Language Hound

    Senior Member
    American English
    The WR dictionary gives the following definition of the verb to burgle:
    to commit burglary upon (a house, etc)
    and the following definition of burglary:
    the crime of either entering a building as a trespasser with the intention of committing theft, rape, grievous bodily harm, or damage, or, having entered as a trespasser, of committing one or more of these offences
    My conclusion is that, since a car is not a building, a car cannot be burgled.
    As I don't believe I've ever heard a native AE-speaker use burgle, you may want to wait for confirmation from a BE-speaker.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The AE verb is burglarize. The BE verb is burgle. Both seem to derive from burglar. A Canadian newspaper reports on a car being burgled three times (also uses the term broken into, perhaps to clarify for readers)

    They take … all of my stuff': Woman visiting hospitalized, dying brother has car burgled for third time
    All examples I can recall for "burglar" are related to theft only, so perhaps the original inclusion of other crimes is less part of today's meaning.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Here's one BE comment. I would not use "burgled" for stealing from a car. Although the Collins definition of "burglary" quoted may match the legal definition of the criminal offence, I do not think that represents normal usage. Like JS, I associate burglary with theft, not rape or GBH - although burglars have committed both those offences while burgling houses. The OED definition is
    The crime of breaking (formerly by night) into a house with intent to commit felony. Now, a statutory crime of entering a building by day or night with the intention of committing a theft or other serious offence. Also attrib.
    The legal definition of burglary in the U.K. differs slightly from that of the U.S. and elsewhere.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I wouldn't use "burgle" in everyday BE to describe theft from a car, either.

    But 'The car was broken into and the radio [was] stolen.' is fine. :)
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You can use "break into" for any locked object, including houses, but burglary only applies to buildings, and it is really only used for houses. It used to be that burglary only applied to break-ins committed at night, and I think most people who use the word casually (as opposed to police officers and lawyers) would be reluctant to use burglary for crimes committed during the daytime.

    Neither "burglary" nor "break into" mean that anything was stolen, but I doubt anyone not involved in the law would use "burglary" unless there had also been theft.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    The answer lies in the definition given in language hound's #2.
    "the crime of either entering a building as a trespasser with the intention of committing theft, rape, grievous bodily harm, or damage, or, having entered as a trespasser, of committing one or more of these offences"
    So, for burglary to occur there must be three elements:
    1. Trespass -> you cannot burgle if you have authority to be there.
    2. A building - you cannot "burgle" open land or, indeed, anything that is not a building.
    3. The burglar must have
    (i) the intention to commit a specified crime -> you do not commit a crime if you trespass with the intention of e.g. sheltering from the cold; making a malicious call on your own mobile phone.
    (ii) formed the idea of committing the specified crime while in the property.
    If I recall correctly, there is the crime of "breaking and entering":
    Breaking involves destructive force. It is possible to "burgle" by gaining access through an open door or window.
    The essence here is that "breaking" is mentioned in the Theft Act, as, in breaking something that belongs to someone else, you "intentionally permanently deprive them of that thing."
     
    Last edited:

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    The answer lies in the definition given in language hound's #2.
    "the crime of either entering a building as a trespasser with the intention of committing theft, rape, grievous bodily harm, or damage, or, having entered as a trespasser, of committing one or more of these offences"
    So, for burglary to occur there must be three elements:
    1. Trespass -> you cannot burgle if you have authority to be there.
    2. A building - you cannot "burgle" open land or, indeed, anything that is not a building.
    3. The burglar must have
    (i) the intention to commit a specified crime -> you do not commit a crime if you trespass with the intention of e.g. sheltering from the cold; making a malicious call on your own mobile phone.
    (ii) formed the idea of committing the specified crime while in the property.
    If I recall correctly, there is the crime of "breaking and entering":
    Breaking involves destructive force. It is possible to "burgle" by gaining access through an open door or window.
    The essence here is that "breaking" is mentioned in the Theft Act, as, in breaking something that belongs to someone else, you "intentionally permanently deprive them of that thing."
    Hmm, well, the answer lies there if you happen to speak according to the letter of the law.
    If you're one of the 99.99999999% of people who don't talk like that, it means 'go into someone's house and nick stuff':cool:

    all figures are approximate
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Well, being as they are legal terms, it seems appropriate to speak according to the letter of the law. Also, sheds, offices, and industrial premises, etc., can be burgled.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    In the US, it is quite common, for example, for the press to report on “a rash of auto burglaries.” It’s used both as a legal term and casually.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    In the US, it is quite common, for example, for the press to report on “a rash of auto burglaries.” It’s used both as a legal term and casually.
    I think most people here use the word "burgled" without any regard to the legal definition of "burglary" - and the topic question was about the use of the verbs, not the definition of the noun. From your post it seems possible that some Americans would talk of automobiles being burglarized, whereas I don't think many Brits would speak of cars being burgled.

    I think I'm with ewie's 99.9...%
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Well, being as they are legal terms, it seems appropriate to speak according to the letter of the law. Also, sheds, offices, and industrial premises, etc., can be burgled.
    Plenty of things 'are legal terms' that only ever get used in their strict legal sense by members of the legal professions.
    I personally would break in to sheds, offices or industrial premises. If I could be arsed.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think I'm with ewie's 99.9...%
    Me three or four:)
    If someone broke into another person's house and caused bodily harm to the occupant I highly doubt anyone (except perhaps a legal clerk) woud call it a burglary! B&E and GBH are the more likely charges (breaking and entering and causing grievous bodily harm).
     

    NevenaT

    Senior Member
    Serbian/Croatian
    Thank you everyone! I like the colloquial solution by ewie too, but as second language learners, we most often come across rather neutral, many times formal, but hardly ever colloquial expressions in books. It's useful and rewarding to know them all though!
     
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