Saturday, March 9

Steal or Rob?

Today we’re going to go over to the dark side and talk about illegal* acts.

*illegal = not according to law; opposite of “legal”

Illegal acts include killing, stealing, rape, etc.

To be exact, today we’re going to learn how to use 2 words: “steal” and “rob.”

all images courtesy of stock.xchng

Our two words above are both used to talk about the action of taking something without permission or against the other person’s will. This is the reason why the two words are very often mixed up by learners.

However, there are small but important differences between our 2 words.

What Happened?

If we talk about meaning, the word “rob” has a meaning close to “take by force.” On the other hand, the word “steal” is close to the meaning of “lift.”

  • Rob = take by force

  • Steal = lift

Take a look at our situations below: 

# 1. Somebody pointed a gun at me on a dark street and robbed me.

# 2. I was in a crowded bus when somebody stole my wallet.

As you can see from our 2 examples above, “rob” in our 1st example can have the meaning of force while “steal” in our 2nd example has the meaning of taking something secretly.

If you try and switch the 2 situations, they won’t be perfectly Ok:

# 1. Somebody pointed a gun at me on a dark street and stole my wallet. = X

# 2. I was in a crowded bus when somebody robbed me. = X

It’s common to use “rob = take from somebody” and “steal = lift.”


# 1. A guy pointed a gun at me on a dark street and robbed me. 
= OK (somebody took my money from me)

# 2. I was in a crowded bus when somebody stole my wallet. 
= OK (somebody lifted my wallet)

Here are a few other examples:

  • Rob

She was robbed at gunpoint* on her way home from work.

*at gunpoint = using a gun

They robbed 3 banks before they were finally arrested.

  • Steal

The thief stole jewelry from the bedroom.

He was caught stealing money from the cash register.

Who Did It?

Because of the difference in meaning between “rob” and “steal,” there are also differences between the people involved in the crime.

Take a look:


robber / mugger

thief / pickpocket / burglar
stealing / theft

When we want to talk about the event or the crime, we say “robbery” or “theft.” For example,

There was a robbery at North-South Bank this morning.

We should report the theft to the police.

And sometimes you can hear the expression “armed robbery.” This means that weapons – guns or knives – were used.

Another expression, “mugger,” is what we call a person who attacks and robs somebody in a public place.  

Finally, both “robbery” and “theft” are terms commonly used in situations about law (legal) and police work.


They were arrested for robbery.

He was charged with theft.

Here are some quick and handy definitions you can use to talk about the person responsible for each terrible act:

Thief (most general expression) = somebody who takes something

Robber = somebody who takes something by force or threat

Burglar = somebody who breaks into somebody else’s house

Cat burglar = somebody who breaks into somebody else’s house expertly  

The word “thief” is also a very general expression that can include a wide variety of criminals including:

Pickpocket = somebody who reaches into your pocket or bag

Purse snatcher = somebody who grabs and runs

Shoplifter = somebody who steals something from a shop

Car thief = somebody who steals automobiles

Finally, the general word “thief” can also sometimes mean a “robber.”


More importantly, in English grammar, it would be useful to remember these very simple formulas:

Rob + somebody / place

Steal + something

Following our patterns above, these sentences commonly made by students are wrong:

Somebody robbed my wallet. = X

Four people stole the bank. = X

A laptop was robbed. = X

I was stolen my money. = X

They should be changed to:

Somebody stole my wallet. = Ok

Four people robbed the bank. = Ok

A laptop was stolen. = Ok

I was robbed. = Ok

In addition, if you want to make your sentences longer, it’s important to know which Preposition to use. Take a look:

Rob + somebody / place + of + something

Steal + something + from + somebody

So, continuing our examples above, we have:

Somebody stole my wallet from me. = Ok

Four people robbed the bank of a big amount of cash. = Ok

A laptop was stolen from the store. = Ok

I was robbed of the chance to join. = Ok


You can see the word “steal” in many other different expressions:

Steal a base = a baseball term

Steal a glance at = to take a secret, quick look

Steal a kiss from somebody = to kiss somebody while he or she is not looking

Steal somebody’s boyfriend / girlfriend = a very terrible crime

Hope you learned something!

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