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Burglary vs. Theft: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 1, 2024
Burglary involves illegally entering a structure to commit theft or a felony. Theft is the act of taking someone's property without permission.

Key Differences

Burglary is a crime involving unlawful entry into a building, often with the intent to commit theft. Theft, however, directly refers to the act of stealing property, irrespective of where it occurs.
Theft encompasses a wide range of property crimes, including larceny, but does not require unlawful entry, which is a hallmark of burglary.
In burglary, the focus is on the violation of a space (like a home or business) to commit an illegal act, which often includes theft but can also involve other crimes.
The severity of burglary charges can be influenced by factors like whether the building was occupied, while theft charges often depend on the value of the stolen property.
Theft can be as simple as taking a small item from a store, whereas burglary might involve breaking into that store after hours for the same act.

Comparison Chart


Illegal entry to commit a crime
Taking property without permission

Required Elements

Unlawful entry, intent to commit a crime
Act of stealing, no consent


Involves a structure or building
Can occur anywhere


Can include intent to commit any felony
Specifically involves intent to steal

Legal Charges

Depends on factors like building occupancy
Based on the value of stolen items

Burglary and Theft Definitions


Unlawful entry into a building with intent to commit a crime.
The burglar was arrested for breaking into the jewelry store at night.


Taking property without the owner's consent.
His wallet was the victim of a pickpocket's theft.


Intruding into someone's property to commit theft or felony.
They committed burglary by entering the closed shop to steal electronics.


Appropriating goods or money without permission.
The employee was fired for the theft of office supplies.


Breaking into a structure illegally to perform an unlawful act.
The burglary at the museum involved stealing priceless artifacts.


The act of stealing someone else's property.
The theft of her bicycle left her devastated.


Entering a residence without permission to commit a criminal act.
The celebrity's home was the target of a high-profile burglary.


Unlawful possession of someone else's belongings.
The theft of confidential documents sparked a major investigation.


The act of entering another's premises without authorization in order to commit a crime, such as theft.


Illegally acquiring property not belonging to the thief.
The art gallery suffered a significant loss due to the theft of several paintings.


An instance of this
There were 10 burglaries in the area last month.


The unlawful taking of the property of another; larceny
The prevention of theft.


The crime of unlawfully breaking into a vehicle, house, store, or other enclosure with the intent to steal.


An instance of such taking
Several car thefts.


(law) Under the common law, breaking and entering of the dwelling of another at night with the intent to commit a felony.


(Obsolete) Something stolen.


Under the Model Penal Code, entering a building or occupied structure with purpose to commit a crime therein, unless the premises are at the time open to the public or the actor is licensed or privileged to enter. Model Penal Code § 221.1.


The act of stealing property.
Bike theft is on the rise
A suspect was arrested for the theft of a gold necklace.


Breaking and entering the dwelling house of another, in the nighttime, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felonious purpose be accomplished or not.


The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.


Entering a building unlawfully with intent to commit a felony or to steal valuable property


The thing stolen.
If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, . . . he shall restore double.


Forcible entry into a property for illicit purposes.
The burglary involved smashing a window to gain access to the house.


The act of taking something from someone unlawfully;
The thieving is awful at Kennedy International


What constitutes burglary?

Burglary involves unlawfully entering a structure with the intent to commit theft or another felony.

Is shoplifting considered theft?

Yes, as it involves taking goods without permission.

Does burglary always involve breaking in?

No, even entering through an unlocked door with criminal intent counts as burglary.

Is stealing a car considered theft?

Yes, this is often termed as grand theft auto.

How is theft defined?

Theft is the act of taking someone else’s property without their consent.

Is taking something by mistake theft?

Not usually, as theft requires intent.

Can returning stolen property negate a theft charge?

Returning property can mitigate circumstances but doesn’t automatically negate the charge.

What is needed to prove burglary?

Evidence of unlawful entry and intent to commit a crime inside.

Does burglary require planning?

Pre-planning is not necessary; it’s the intent at the time of entry that matters.

Can theft charges vary?

Yes, based on the value of the stolen property.

Can burglary occur without theft?

Yes, if the intent is to commit a felony other than theft.

Are all burglaries committed at night?

No, burglaries can occur at any time.

Does the value of stolen items affect burglary charges?

Not typically; it's more about the act of illegal entry and intended crime.

Is theft a lesser crime than burglary?

Typically, yes, because burglary includes the element of unlawful entry.

Can theft be committed without physically taking something?

Yes, like in cases of identity theft or embezzlement.

What's the key element in proving theft?

Demonstrating the unlawful taking of property without consent.

Can burglary happen in an unoccupied building?

Yes, occupancy is not a requirement for burglary.

What's the difference in penalties for burglary and theft?

Burglary often carries harsher penalties due to the element of breaking and entering.

Is borrowing without permission theft?

It can be considered theft if there's intent to deprive the owner temporarily.

Is breaking into a car burglary?

This is often classified as a separate offense, like vehicle burglary.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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