[ theft ]
/ θɛft /
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the act of stealing; the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another; larceny.
an instance of this.
Archaic. something stolen.


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Origin of theft

before 900; Middle English; Old English thēfth, thēofth;see thief, -th1; cognate with Old Norse thȳfth,obsolete Dutch diefte


an·ti·theft, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does theft mean?

Theft is the act of stealing. An instance of stealing can also be called a theft.

A person who commits theft is called a thief. The word especially refers to a person who steals in secret and without using force or violence.

In general, intentionally taking something that doesn’t belong to you is theft. The word most commonly refers to the stealing of money or physical property, but theft can involve the stealing of other things, such as personal information (which is called identity theft).

The word theft often refers to a case in which a thief steals something without anyone noticing, at least not when the theft is taking place. In contrast, a case in which a person who steals by using force, violence, or threats of force or violence would more likely be called a robbery. Still, the word theft is used generally to refer to any case of something being stolen. In this way, a robbery is a kind of theft.

Most instances of theft are crimes, but the word can be used to refer to an instance of stealing that wouldn’t get a person arrested. You might call it theft when your sibling steals a cookie from your plate, for example.

A legal term for some kinds of theft is larceny. The word thievery can mean the same thing as theft, but it typically refers to the practice of stealing—thieves lead a life of thievery.

Example: I don’t care that he only stole a few things—it’s still theft.

Where does theft come from?

The first records of the word theft come from before the year 900. It comes from the Old English thēofth.

There is no shortage of ways to commit theft. and many of them have a specific name. Petty theft typically involves the habitually stealing of small-time items. Shoplifting is the stealing of products from retail stores. Some thieves steal valuable items. Art theft, jewel theft, and car theft are central to the plot of many movies and shows. Pickpocketing is the theft of things, such as wallets or watches, directly from people’s pockets or from their body.

Burglary involves the theft of valuables from a home or business by breaking in or otherwise unlawfully entering. However, while burglary might be called theft in general, this type of theft is more likely to be labeled as robbery, since it also involves trespassing on someone’s property and invading their space.

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What are some other forms related to theft?

What are some synonyms for theft?

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


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


How is theft used in real life?

Regardless of what they’re thought to have stolen, accusing a person of theft is serious.



Try using theft!

Which of the following actions could be considered a case of theft?

A. shoplifting
B. pickpocketing
C. stealing someone’s idea
D. all of the above

How to use theft in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for theft

/ (θɛft) /

criminal law the dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession
rare something stolen

Derived forms of theft

theftless, adjective

Word Origin for theft

Old English thēofth; related to Old Norse thӯfth, Old Frisian thiūvethe, Middle Dutch düfte; see thief
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