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IELTS & TOEFL Crime Vocabulary

One of the core topics for IELTS & TOEFL is crime and punishment. In English, there are a lot of specific words for different types of crimes and the criminals who commit them. And unfortunately, the list is long!

Major Crimes

The list of crimes below are all nouns.

  • abduction = taking someone away by force, demanding money for their safe return (kidnapping)
  • arson = setting fire to a building, cars or property on purpose
  • assassination = killing a famous person or public figure
  • assault = a physical attack
  • burglary = illegal entry to a building with an intent to commit a crime
  • child abuse = maltreatment of a child
  • cybercrime = doing something illegal over the Internet or a computer system
  • drug trafficking = importing illegal drugs
  • false imprisonment = imprisoning a person against their will
  • fraud = deception for personal or financial gain
  • forgery = illegally copying documents, money, etc. to cheat people
  • hacking = unauthorised access to data in a computer system
  • hijacking = illegally getting control of an aircraft or vehicle
  • human trafficking = illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation
  • kidnapping = taking someone away by force, often demanding money for their safe return
  • murder (BrE) = homicide (AmE)
    • premeditated murder = murder that is intentional (planned before hand)
    • unpremeditated murder = murder that is not intentional (not planned)
    • manslaughter = unintentional murder (synonym for unpremeditated murder)
    • attempted murder = planning to kill another person
    • patricide = killing one’s own father
    • genocide = systematic killing of a race or religious group
    • euthanasia = killing someone for their benefit
  • organised crime = crime by an organised gang or organisation
  • perjury = lying in court, while under oath
  • smuggling = illegal import or export
  • terrorism = unlawful violence or threat with political aims
  • treason = betraying one’s country by helping its enemies
  • trespassing = entering another person’s area; hurting people/damaging property through force
  • white collar crime = financially motivated non-violent crime by a worker

Minor Crimes / Offences

  • bigamy = marrying someone when you are already married to another person
  • blackmailing = threatening to reveal someone’s secrets if a lot of money is not paid
  • bribery = giving money or granting favors to influence another person’s decisions or behavior
  • hooliganism = being violent or aggressive on purpose; often used to describe youth
  • mugging = attacking someone with a plan to rob them
  • pick pocketing = taking from another person’s pockets
  • poaching = hunting illegally
  • shoplifting = taking products from a shop without paying for them
  • traffic offences =breaking the rules of the road and driving
    • drunk driving = drinking whilst under the influence of alcohol
    • jay walking = crossing the road at an designated spot
    • running a red light = going through traffic lights when they are red
    • speeding = driving over the speed limit
  • vandalism = deliberate destruction or damage to a building

Categories of Criminals

This list shows the person relating to the crime (the perpetrator of the crime).

  • arson = arsonist
  • assassination = assassin
  • assault  = assailant
  • bigamy = bigamist
  • blackmail = blackmailer
  • bombing = bomber
  • bribery = briber
  • burglary = burglar
  • child abuse = child abuser
  • crime = criminal
  • cybercrime  = hacker
  • drunk driving  = drunk driver
  • embezzlement = embezzler
  • espionage = spy
  • forgery = forger
  • fraud = fraud
  • hijacking = hijacker
  • hooliganism = hooligan
  • kidnapping = kidnapper
  • looting = looter
  • mugging = mugger
  • murder = murderer
  • pickpocketing = pickpocketer
  • poaching = poacher
  • riot = rioter
  • robbery = robber
  • shoplifting = shoplifter
  • smuggling = smuggler
  • terrorism = terrorist
  • theft = thief
  • treason = traitor
  • trespassing = trespasser
  • vandalism = vandal

Types of Punishment

  • the death penalty (capital punishment) = punishment of death
  • a prison sentence (imprisonment) = imprisonment
    • life in prison
    • 5 years
    • 7 months
  • a suspended sentence = delaying of a sentence
  • forfeiture = property is taken away (confiscated)
  • hospital order = to confine someone to hospital under arrest
  • a fine = to pay money as a punishment for an offence
  • house arrest = imprisoned in one’s own house rather than in prison
  • to suspend a license = with holding a person’s right to use their driving license for a period of time
  • to revoke a license = to take away someone’s driving license
  • non-custodial sentence = a sentence which is not done in prison
    • community service = punishment by doing community work

Other Types of Punishment

This refers to punishment commonly used by schools and parents.

  • detention = to stay in school after hours for punishment
  • to give lines = punishment where a child must write the same sentence again and again
  • isolation = to be kept apart from others as a punishment
  • grounding = to be unable to go outside home as a punishment
  • scolding = an angry reprimand
  • corporal punishment = physical punishment from a teacher or headteacher at school

Court Language

  • judge = the person who controls the court proceedings
  • jury = a group of independent people who decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty
  • justice = fairness or court law
  • trial = legal proceedings to judge whether someone is guilty of a crime
  • court = the place where the trial is held
  • defendant = the accused person: the individual or group being accused in court of a crime
  • prosecutor = the lawyer against the accused person
  • defense = the lawyer protecting the accused person
  • witness = a person who sees an event happen
  • evidence = facts or information supporting the truth
  • proof = evidence supporting a claim
  • hearsay = rumour / unsubstantiated information
  • guilty = not innocent as judged by a court of law
  • innocent = found not guilty of a crime
  • to be found guilty = the court decided that the person did commit the crime
  • conviction / verdict = formal sentence of a court
  • circumstances of the crime = a condition or situation relating to a crime
  • extenuating circumstances = a condition that makes the crime or mistake less serious and more understandable
  • take into consideration = should be thought about carefully
  • circumstantial evidence = something that connects a person indirectly to the crime (for example, a finger print at a crime scene but no actual hard evidence or witness)
  • maximum / minimum sentence = highest penalty / lowest penalty
  • a harsh punishment = hard, strict penalty
  • penalty / punishment are synonyms but penalty is often used for both minor offences and major crimes.

Other Useful Crime & Punishment Vocabulary

  • crime is prevalent = there is a lot of crime
  • armed police = police who carry guns
  • to deter (n = deterrent) = to put someone off from doing something
  • discrimination = unjust treatment
  • to be soft on crime = not to have harsh or strict punishments
  • repeat offender = a person who has committed a crime or offence more than once
  • serial criminals = criminals who repeatedly commit the same crime
  • diminished responsibility = when someone is not in a state to be considered responsible for their own actions
  • rehabilitation = to restore someone through education or therapy
  • reintegrate back into society = help someone return into society
  • peer pressure = pressure from friends or colleagues
  • role models = people whose behaviour should be copied and respected
  • mimicking violent behaviour = to copy aggressive actions

Try exercises to help you use this crime vocabulary.

Here you will find links to essays connected to crime topics. 


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