[ krim-uh-nl ]
/ ˈkrɪm ə nl /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: criminal / criminals / criminally on Thesaurus.com

of the nature of or involving crime.
guilty of crime.
Law. of or relating to crime or its punishment: a criminal proceeding.
senseless; foolish: It's criminal to waste so much good food.
exorbitant; grossly overpriced: They charge absolutely criminal prices.
a person guilty or convicted of a crime.
Do you know the difference between everyday US and UK terminology? Test yourself with this quiz on words that differ across the Atlantic.
Question 1 of 7
In the UK, COTTON CANDY is more commonly known as…

Origin of criminal

1350–1400; Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin crīminālis, equivalent to Latin crīmin- (stem of crīmen;see crime) + -ālis-al1

synonym study for criminal

1. See illegal.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a basic definition of criminal?

A criminal is a person who commits crime. Criminal is also used to describe something involved in committing crime or related to crime. Criminal has a few other senses as an adjective.

A criminal is a person who breaks the law and engages in illegal activity.

  • Real-life examples: Shoplifters, kidnappers, bank robbers, and pirates are all criminals.
  • Used in a sentence: The judged sentenced the two wanted criminals to prison for stealing a car.

As an adjective, criminal describes something involved in or related to committing a crime.

  • Real-life examples: Stealing a car, robbing someone’s house, and printing fake money to use as real money are all criminal acts. They are all against the law, and a person will be arrested if caught doing any of these acts. Police might say a person is accused of criminal activity if they believe the person was doing something illegal.
  • Used in a sentence: The gangster Al Capone was in charge of a criminal organization.

Criminal can also be used to describe something that is related to crime without actually engaging in it.

  • Real-life examples: In the United States, criminal law is a collection of laws that state what the government or society says is a crime and will result in punishment by the state if someone is proved to have broken the law. A criminal lawyer is a lawyer who specializes in criminal law.
  • Used in a sentence: When Jimmy was arrested for breaking into his neighbor’s house, he called a criminal lawyer to help him.

Where does criminal come from?

The first records of criminal come from around 1350. It ultimately comes from the Late Latin crīminālis, which comes from the Latin crīmen, meaning “crime” or “charge.”

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to criminal?

  • criminally (adverb)
  • noncriminal (adjective)
  • noncriminally (adjective)
  • quasicriminal (adjective)

What are some synonyms for criminal?

What are some words that share a root or word element with criminal

What are some words that often get used in discussing criminal?

How is criminal used in real life?

Criminal is a common word that refers to people who commit crime or things that are related to crime.



Try using criminal!

Is criminal used correctly in the following sentence?

The police were searching for a criminal who stole from a grocery store.

How to use criminal in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for criminal

/ (ˈkrɪmɪnəl) /

a person charged with and convicted of crime
a person who commits crimes for a living
of, involving, or guilty of crime
(prenominal) of or relating to crime or its punishmentcriminal court; criminal lawyer
informal senseless or deplorablea criminal waste of money

Derived forms of criminal

criminally, adverb

Word Origin for criminal

C15: from Late Latin crīminālis; see crime, -al 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012