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Delinquent vs. Criminal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 2, 2023
A delinquent is someone, often a young person, who behaves in a way that is illegal or not approved of by society, whereas a criminal is a person who commits a crime.

Key Differences

A delinquent is commonly associated with youth who engage in minor legal violations or antisocial behavior. On the other hand, a criminal is typically an individual of any age who has committed a crime, which is a serious violation of the law.
Delinquent behavior often refers to offenses that are considered less severe, such as truancy or vandalism. Criminal acts include more serious offenses like burglary, assault, or murder, which can lead to significant legal penalties.
When referring to a delinquent, it can also imply someone who fails to fulfill an obligation, especially a financial one. In contrast, a criminal is not defined by a failure to meet obligations but by the commission of actions deemed illegal by the law.
The term delinquent is frequently applied in the context of juvenile delinquency, which involves unlawful behaviors by minors. In contrast, the term criminal does not inherently consider the age of the person and is used universally for individuals who commit crimes.
The legal system often treats delinquents, particularly juveniles, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and correction. Criminals, particularly those who commit felonies, face a legal system that can impose strict punishments, including imprisonment or fines.

Comparison Chart

Age Association

Often used for youths.
Can refer to any age.

Severity of Offense

Minor legal violations or misconduct.
Serious legal violations (crimes).

Legal Consequences

Rehabilitation-focused, often milder.
Punishment can be severe, including prison.

Type of Behavior

Antisocial, minor offenses, or failing obligations.
Actions that break criminal laws.

Societal Impact

Usually less harmful, may disturb social order.
Often poses a significant threat to society.

Delinquent and Criminal Definitions


An individual displaying or involving unacceptable behavior.
Delinquent behavior in class led to his suspension.


Pertaining to crime or its punishment.
He faced criminal charges for embezzlement.


Negligent of duty or obligation.
He was delinquent in his duties as a committee member.


An individual involved in illicit activities.
Known criminals were under surveillance by the authorities.


A young person who frequently breaks minor laws.
The teen was labeled a delinquent after skipping school repeatedly.


A person who has committed a crime.
The criminal was apprehended by the police.


A term for minor legal violations by someone, especially a minor.
The delinquent was caught graffitiing the side of the new building.


Behaving in a manner that violates laws.
Criminal actions such as theft were on the rise in the neighborhood.


Someone overdue on a payment or obligation.
His credit score dropped due to delinquent account payments.


Someone convicted of a criminal offense.
The court sentenced the criminal to ten years in jail.


Failing to do what law or duty requires.


Of, involving, or having the nature of crime
Criminal abuse.


Overdue in payment
A delinquent account.


Relating to the administration of penal law.


Do both delinquents and criminals face jail time?

Criminals often face jail time, while delinquents, especially juveniles, may receive lighter sentences focused on rehabilitation.

Are all delinquents criminals?

Not all delinquents are criminals, as some may engage in minor offenses not classified as crimes.

What defines a criminal?

A criminal is someone who commits acts that are in violation of the criminal laws.

What is the legal system’s approach to delinquents?

The legal system often focuses on rehabilitation and corrective measures for delinquents.

Can a delinquent act be a felony?

Delinquent acts are usually not felonies; felonies are criminal acts.

Can delinquency lead to criminal behavior?

Yes, if not addressed, delinquent behavior can escalate to criminal behavior.

Is delinquency a criminal charge?

Delinquency is not a criminal charge but a term used to describe certain behaviors, especially in juveniles.

How does society view delinquents versus criminals?

Delinquents are often seen as misdirected youth, while criminals are viewed as a more serious threat to society.

Do both delinquents and criminals have rights during legal proceedings?

Yes, both have legal rights, including the right to a fair trial.

What is a delinquent?

A delinquent is usually a young person who engages in minor illegal acts or misconduct.

What kind of crimes do criminals commit?

Criminals commit a wide range of crimes, from theft to murder.

Can adults be delinquents?

The term delinquent is typically reserved for minors, but adults can be delinquent in their obligations.

Can delinquent behavior be corrected?

Delinquent behavior can often be corrected through counseling, education, and community programs.

Are truancy and vandalism delinquent or criminal behaviors?

They are typically considered delinquent behaviors, especially when perpetrated by minors.

Do criminal records affect future opportunities?

Yes, having a criminal record can severely impact future employment and other opportunities.

Can delinquent debts lead to criminal charges?

Typically, delinquent debts in themselves do not lead to criminal charges unless associated with fraud or theft.

Are delinquents tried in regular courts?

Juvenile delinquents are usually tried in juvenile courts, which are different from regular criminal courts.

What is juvenile delinquency?

Juvenile delinquency refers to antisocial or criminal behavior by individuals who are not yet adults.

What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a delinquent act?

A misdemeanor is a type of criminal offense that is less serious than a felony, while a delinquent act is not classified as a crime and is often associated with youth misbehavior.

Is theft a delinquent act or criminal act?

Theft is generally considered a criminal act.
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
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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