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Threatening vs. Blackmail: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on September 27, 2023
Threatening involves expressing an intention to cause harm, while blackmail is coercing someone by threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful, or damaging information about them.

Key Differences

Threatening is a term used to describe the act of expressing an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone. It involves making someone feel fearful or anxious about potential harm or adverse actions that might befall them. On the other hand, blackmail is a specific form of threat, where an individual coerces another by threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful, or damaging information. Blackmail typically involves a demand, usually for money, in return for withholding the damaging information.
Threatening can be verbal, non-verbal, or written and does not necessarily have to involve any illegal demand or the revelation of damaging information. It can be a mere expression or suggestion of harm or adverse action. Blackmail, in contrast, is a criminal act that involves making unlawful demands. It specifically refers to the act of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats of revealing damaging information, potentially leading to a loss of reputation or causing embarrassment.
While threatening can be subtle or overt, aimed at causing distress, fear, or compulsion, blackmail is unequivocally explicit and manipulative. Threatening can be broad and not necessarily involve an exchange or a demand, and it may or may not be illegal, depending on the context and jurisdiction. However, blackmail always involves a form of extortion and manipulation and is illegal, as it exploits the victim’s fears or vulnerabilities for personal gain.
Both threatening and blackmail are coercive by nature, but the essence of their difference lies in the specificity and the legality of the act. Threatening focuses on creating a sense of fear or impending harm, without necessarily having a demand or an exchange involved, and its legality is subjective. Blackmail is unmistakably illegal and involves a clear demand or an attempt to extract something from the victim by leveraging their secrets or vulnerabilities. It utilizes threatening as a tool but surpasses it in terms of specificity, illegality, and exploitative intent.

Comparison Chart


Expressing an intention to inflict harm or damage.
Coercing by threatening to reveal damaging or embarrassing information.


Can be legal or illegal, depending on context.
Always illegal.


Can be subtle or overt, broad.
Explicit, manipulative, and specific.


Creating fear or a sense of impending harm.
Extracting something from the victim by exploiting their vulnerabilities.


May or may not involve a demand or an exchange.
Involves a clear demand or an attempt to extract something.

Threatening and Blackmail Definitions


Expressing or suggesting a likely harm.
His threatening tone made everyone uneasy.


Manipulation by leveraging sensitive or damaging information.
She resorted to blackmail to get what she wanted.


Conveying an intention to inflict pain or damage.
The note contained a threatening message.


Extortion of money or something else of value by threats.
He was arrested for the blackmail of a prominent businessman.


Creating a hostile or intimidating environment.
The dog’s threatening posture kept the intruders at bay.


Unlawful demand through the threat of revealing secrets.
The actor paid a hefty sum to avoid blackmail.


Displaying a potential to cause harm or loss.
The threatening conditions forced the evacuation of the town.


Exploiting vulnerabilities for personal gain through threats.
Blackmail is a crime that exploits people's fears and secrets.


Presenting a risk of harm or danger.
The threatening clouds signaled an approaching storm.


Extortion of money or something else of value from a person by the threat of exposing a criminal act or discreditable information.


Making or implying threats
A threatening phone call.


Something of value, especially money, extorted in this manner
Refused to pay blackmail.


Gving warning signs of bad weather
Threatening skies.


Tribute formerly paid to freebooters along the Scottish border for protection from pillage.


Causing the feeling that one's power, social standing, or self-esteem is in danger of being diminished
Found the criticism threatening.


The extortion of money or favours by threats of public accusation, exposure, or censure.


Present participle of threaten


(archaic) A form of protection money (or corn, cattle, etc.) anciently paid, in the north of England and south of Scotland, to the allies of robbers in order to be spared from pillage.


Presenting a threat, posing a likely risk of harm.
Never turn your back to someone who is displaying threatening behavior.


Black rent, or rent paid in corn, meat, or the lowest coin, as opposed to white rent, which was paid in silver.


Making threats, making statements about a willingness to cause harm.


Compromising material that can be used to extort someone, dirt.


An act of threatening; a threat.


(transitive) To extort money or favors from (a person) by exciting fears of injury other than bodily harm, such as injury to reputation, distress of mind, false accusation, etc.
He blackmailed a businesswoman by threatening to expose an alleged fraud.


Threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments;
A baleful look
Forbidding thunderclouds
His tone became menacing
Ominous rumblings of discontent
Sinister storm clouds
A sinister smile
His threatening behavior
Ugly black clouds
The situation became ugly


(Kenya) To speak ill of someone; to defame someone.


Darkened by clouds;
A heavy sky


A certain rate of money, corn, cattle, or other thing, anciently paid, in the north of England and south of Scotland, to certain men who were allied to robbers, or moss troopers, to be by them protected from pillage.


Payment of money exacted by means of intimidation; also, extortion of money from a person by threats of public accusation, exposure, or censure.


Black rent, or rent paid in corn, flesh, or the lowest coin, a opposed to "white rent", which paid in silver.


To extort money from by exciting fears of injury other than bodily harm, as injury to reputation, distress of mind, etc.; as, to blackmail a merchant by threatening to expose an alleged fraud.


Extortion of money by threats to divulge discrediting information


Exert pressure on someone through threats


Obtain through threats


Coercion involving threats to reveal embarrassing or disgraceful information.
The politician was a victim of blackmail involving his past.


Is blackmail always considered a crime?

Yes, blackmail is universally considered a crime as it involves coercion and exploitation.

Is every threatening action illegal?

No, the legality of a threatening action depends on context, intent, and jurisdiction.

Does blackmail always involve money?

No, blackmail can involve any demands or coercions, not just money.

Can threatening occur without any intent to act?

Yes, threatening can occur even if there is no real intent to cause harm.

Can a person be blackmailed with true information?

Yes, blackmail often involves the threat of revealing true, but hidden or confidential information.

Can threatening be non-verbal?

Absolutely, threatening can be verbal, non-verbal, or written.

Is blackmail only about revealing secrets?

Mostly, but it can also involve any form of coercion or exploitation.

Can something be threatening without being direct?

Yes, indirect suggestions or implications can also be perceived as threatening.

Are threatening actions always explicit?

No, threatening actions can be both explicit and implicit.

Can a person be convicted for blackmail without monetary transaction?

Yes, a conviction can occur if there is enough evidence of coercion, even without a transaction.

Can threatening be subjective?

Absolutely, what one person finds threatening, another might not.

Can a threatening situation be unintentional?

Yes, sometimes a person or situation may seem threatening unintentionally.

Can blackmail occur without a formal demand?

Yes, any coercion or exploitation with a threat can constitute blackmail, even without a formal demand.

Do threatening and blackmail always involve harm to the recipient?

Typically, yes, both involve creating a sense of harm or fear in the recipient.

Is it blackmail if the information is false?

Yes, using false information to coerce someone can still be considered blackmail.
About Author
Written 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.
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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