How to talk about Crime in English

Why talk about crime?

It’s not the kind of subject that many people talk about. But in the IELTS test, the examiner might ask you a question about crime in Part Two or Part Three.

If you are a student considering a career in Law or maybe you want to become a police officer, then in the college interview you might be expected to talk about crime too.

So, I have created this complete guide on how to talk about crime in English.

It covers all the vocabulary and phrases you may need to use and I also provide some examples of use too.

Shall we get right into it?


Types of Crime

There are several types of crime in the world.

Below is a table of the most common kinds of crime that we might read about in the news.
















Some of these crimes are more common than others. But let’s look at some examples.


There was a theft at the house down the road from us. The house-owners were away for the weekend and thieves broke in and stole some valuables, a computer and two designer leather jackets.


I read about a murder that happened last week. A man was walking his dog in the local park and he was attacked by another man who had a knife. He stabbed the man several times. The victim went to hospital, but it was too late to save his life.


The bank on the high street had a robbery. Masked robbers came in and demanded money. They were carrying guns and managed to get away with two large bags of cash in used notes.


Every day I read about muggings in my city. It seems that the streets are not safe to be on without someone attacking you and stealing your money and your phone.


All the shops in the town centre have signs that say shoplifting is a crime and all thieves will be prosecuted. But it doesn’t seem to have any effect. They still come in and take whatever they want.



Look at the words in the table above and find the meanings in a dictionary. Write down the meanings in your notebook. Then write sentences of your own.

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The Criminals

Of course for crimes to exist there has to be criminals.

These are the people that commit the crimes.

Let’s look at some words associated with these people.


bank robber








scam artist


drug dealer




A lot of these words are used to describe different kinds of thieves — namely, thief, bank robber, conman, mugger, pickpocket, shoplifter, scam artist and burglar.

Theft is the most common type of crime and people usually commit a crime to gain something, so in English, we have many names for different types of thieves.

Incidentally, the word ‘mugger’ is actually an Indian word that means crocodile. We use the word to describe a type of thief in English. Very appropriate!

Let’s look at some examples.


Every time I check my emails, I get a message from someone telling me I have inherited $8,000,000. Of course, it is just a scam artist trying to get my bank details so I always delete these messages.



There’s an area of our city that has many drug dealers. They do their business right on the street and the police seem unable to do anything about it.


My aunt was the victim of a conman. He came to her home and told her he was an official from the local council. He told her she owed some money for council tax. He even showed her an official-looking document. She paid the money and soon after realised what had happened.



Look at all the words for criminals in the table and find the meanings in your dictionary. Then write down the meanings and write your own sentences too.


The People who work against the Criminals

Just as we have criminals we have people whose job it is to catch and prosecute the criminals.

Let’s look at the words for these people in detail.

police officer


social worker




banking fraud specialist

border patrol agent

forensic specialist

correctional officer

crime lab analyst

crime scene technician

police detective

probation officer

prison warden

There are many jobs where people work with criminals or to help solve crimes or to uphold the law.

You can find a huge list of crime and law job here.

Let’s see some of these words used in examples:


I went to court, and I didn’t stand a chance. There was so much evidence against me that the judge had no problem giving me a prison sentence.


As a solicitor, I meet all types of people. I have to defend them the best I can in court. This can be very difficult sometimes if the person I am defending has a long history of breaking the law.


I have been a prison warden for many years. Most of the time it is an easy job to do. But you learn how to read people’s body language. These are criminals we are dealing with after all.


My job requires that I protect the border of the country. I am a border patrol agent. Sometimes people try to get into the country in the back of trucks of hidden in a crate. We always treat the people as well as we can but we also have to protect our borders too.



Look up all the words of these jobs in the dictionary. Then write down the definitions. Write your own sentences using these words too.


Verbs associated with Crime

Let’s look at some verbs commonly used to talk about crime. Many of these verbs look like the words that we have used before to talk about the types of crime and the criminals associated with the crime world.















break out

commit a crime

get away with


We can use these verbs in the following ways:

A man was assaulted on his way home last night. Police are investigating the matter.

A jewellery store was robbed over the weekend. Thieves got away with several high-priced diamonds and three valuable watches.


A young man was sentenced in court on Monday. He was charged with stealing. He had attacked many people and stole their money.


Thieves broke in a hotel last week. They took all the money left in an overnight safe.


A gang tried to blackmail a family into giving them money. But their plan failed, and the court charged them. They will go to prison for several years.


Notice how many of these sentences use the passive tense. We use the active and passive tense like this:

  • Thieves robbed the jewellery store.
  • The jewellery store was robbed.


We use the passive tense because quite often the place or person who is the victim of the crime is more important than the criminals who committed the crime.

You can check out more about the passive tense here.



Look up all the verbs above in the table and write down the meanings in your notebook.

Then write sentences of your own. Speak them out loud to yourself to hear what they sound like too.


Phrases associated with Crime

As with everything in English, there are many phrases and collocations associated with crime.

Let’s look at some of them.

break into

breaking and entering

break out of

go straight


white-collar crime

disorderly conduct

to do a runner


crime-infested area

lock up

to do time

caught red-handed

behind bars

bang to rights

in broad daylight

And this is what these phrases mean and some examples:


Break into — to force entry into a building with the intent of stealing something

Thieves broke into the hotel over the weekend.


Breaking and entering — a legal term used to explain what crime the criminal committed. It means to force entry into a building and to go in. An illegal act in most countries of the world.

A man was charged in court with breaking and entering and sentenced to six months in prison.


Break out of — to escape, to get away from prison.

Three men broke out of prison last week. Police are searching the area.



Go straight — to stop breaking the law and live a normal, law-abiding life after a long time of being a criminal.

Jack Jones decided to go straight when he was released from prison. He decided it was not a good life for him.


Tip-off — advice or some information given to the police about some criminals. Usually given by another criminal known as a ‘grass’.

The police received a tip-off about a robbery about to take place at the casino and were able to act on it.


White-collar crime — the kind of crime that only takes place inside a company. Usually theft or fraud and non-violent.

The internet company Zoo Search has been at the centre of some white-collar crime. Millions of dollars went missing.


Disorderly conduct — the act of behaving in an anti-social manner in public. Often the perpetrator is drunk.

A man was arrested for disorderly conduct in the airport this morning.


To do a runner — to run away, to escape.

Police apprehended two thieves and caught one. The other managed to do a runner and got away.


Stakeout — this is something that police and detectives do when trying to catch robbers in the act of stealing. Maybe they received a tip-off and then they wait for the thieves to arrive. The police often hide in rooms or cars as they wait for the thieves to arrive.

A police stakeout resulted in the capture of a gang of thieves last Saturday.


Crime infested area — an area or district with a high level of crime. Often a poor area.

The Brown family have moved house. They were tired of their old neighbourhood as there was so much crime. “We lived in a terrible crime-infested area,” said Mrs Brown.


Lock up — to put criminals in prison. Essentially, to use a lock to keep them away from society.

Newtown has seen a huge reduction in crime as police managed to lock up many criminals.


To do time — the act of being in prison and serving a period of time as a sentence.

“I’ve done my time,” said Bob. “I think I need to go straight.”


Caught red-handed — when police find thieves or other criminals in the act of breaking the law.

Police went to the jewellery store on Friday night and caught a gang of thieves red-handed. All the criminals were arrested.


Behind bars — to be in prison, effectively behind the bars of the prison cell.

A man was caught trying to murder another man. He was caught and is now behind bars.


Bang to rights — when the police or the court finds a criminal with a high level of proof that he committed the crime.

The man tried to deny he committed the thefts, but the court had him banged to rights.


In broad daylight — to commit a crime during the day when many people can see the criminals doing it.

Thieves broke into a bank in broad daylight at three pm on Tuesday.



Look at all the above terms and examples. Now make your own sentences in your own words.

Write them all in your notebook and speak each one out loud.


Petty Crime

There is serious crime — as we talked about earlier in Types of Crime.

But there is also petty crime.

This is a kind of crime that is not so serious. Many people commit petty crimes daily. Maybe you have committed a petty crime already today!

Let’s look at some examples:



This is when a person crosses the road without permission. They could cross a busy road and run between cars. Or they could cross at a pedestrian crossing when there is no green man walking.

A policeman caught me jaywalking. He said there is usually a fine to pay, but he just gave me a warning.



Jumping a Red Light

If a car driver crosses a junction when there is a red light in front of him, this is called jumping a red light. Most cities have cameras these days to catch drivers that do this.

I was in a real hurry so I jumped a red light. Two days later I received a fine for $20.



A minor crime where a person enters the private property of another person. Often this is a private road or outside area.

I was lost and found myself on a private drive leading to a big house. There was a sign that said trespassers would be prosecuted so I quickly turned back.


Downloading Music Illegally

This is when someone finds music online and downloads it for free without paying the artist or the music company. Many people do it but it is actually a crime.

I didn’t know that downloading music was illegal! I have thousands of songs that I downloaded off the internet without paying.



Try to find other examples of petty crime online.

Make a list of all the petty crimes you have committed!


Victim of Crime

Most people in the world are not criminals. We live normal, law-abiding lives.

But we could be a victim of crime.

This is where we may meet a thief who steals something from us. Or a thief breaks into our house and takes something valuable.

A victim of crime loses money and valuable but they could also suffer from emotional and mental issues too.




  • Have you ever been the victim of crime?
  • Have you encountered a thief who stole something from you?
  • Or were you tricked online and paid for something only to be cheated?

Write about this in your notebook. Read the story out loud when you have finished.


Questions about Crime


Finally, here are some questions you can practice when discussing crime.

Does your city or hometown have much crime? What kind of crime is there?

Are there any areas in your hometown that have a high crime rate? Talk about them.

Do you always lock your house at night? Why/why not?

Is there the death penalty in your country? For what crimes? Do you agree or disagree with this?

Have you ever been mugged? Do you know anyone else who has? What happened?

Should police be allowed to carry guns? Why/why not?

What is the meaning of a serious crime? Give examples.

Have you ever stolen anything by accident? Is this a crime?

Is it acceptable for a person to steal a loaf of bread to feed his children?

What is organised crime? Is this a problem in your country?

What are some new, modern crimes?

What crimes no longer happen today?

How can we prevent common crimes? Give details.

Why do people become criminals?

What do you think of gun or knife crime?

Have you ever witnessed a crime? What happened?

Are men or women the victims of crime?

Is piracy a crime? Does it exist in your country?

Is it possible for a criminal to change? How?

What are some examples of internet crime?

How many petty crimes have you committed?

Have you ever reported a crime?



We don’t always talk about crime. Quite often we see stories on the news about a crime that has happened. We might discuss it with our friends or family but it is not something we always talk about.

But in the IELTS speaking test, the examiner might ask you to talk about this topic. If so, this guide should come in very useful.

You might also be expected to talk about crime if you are applying to a college to study law or to be a member of the police.

Again, this guide might be good to read.

Go through all the exercises so you can use the words and phrases easily.

And let me know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “How to talk about Crime in English”

  1. Thanks for broaching a subject that people often don’t like to talk about. I especially liked the way you gave vocabulary that differed according to its function (verb noun etc.) It was also interesting that you offered the explanation about the passive tense. This is particularly useful for a topic like this where we describe things that happened but may not know who did it.

    1. Thank you Leona. Yes, it can be a difficult subject to talk about but it is something that people may need to talk about at some point in their lives. I only realised as I was researching this topic that we use the passive tense much of the time when talking about crime. So, I guess a useful grammar point for students to learn.

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