Difference Wiki

Vandalism vs. Graffiti: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on October 6, 2023
Vandalism refers to the intentional destruction or defacement of public or private property without consent. Graffiti is a specific form of vandalism involving writing or drawing on surfaces but can also be considered art when done with permission.

Key Differences

Vandalism is a broad term that encompasses any deliberate action aimed at damaging or defacing property without the owner's consent. This can include acts like breaking windows, slashing tires, or destroying signage. Graffiti, on the other hand, is a more specific form of vandalism focused on writing, drawing, or painting on surfaces like walls, sidewalks, or public transport. However, graffiti can also be sanctioned and viewed as a form of artistic expression.
In American English, the word "vandalism" is typically used as a noun to describe the act or the result of vandalizing something, such as "committing vandalism" or "a case of vandalism." The word "graffiti" can also be a noun but can function as both a singular and a plural noun; for example, "a graffiti" or "several graffiti."
From a grammatical standpoint, "vandalism" and "graffiti" are primarily nouns. Adjectival forms exist for both words: "vandalistic" and "graffitied," but these are less commonly used. The words also function differently in sentences; "vandalism" usually requires a subject or agent causing the destruction, while "graffiti" can stand alone to describe the markings themselves.
Both vandalism and graffiti can be illegal activities, subject to fines or even imprisonment. However, the public perception of graffiti is changing, and it's increasingly being recognized as a legitimate form of art, especially when done with permission or in designated areas. Vandalism, in contrast, is generally not accepted as an art form and is usually considered a criminal or antisocial act.

Comparison Chart


Broad, various forms of property damage
Specific, writing or drawings on surfaces


Generally illegal
Can be illegal or legal (if permitted)


Generally negative
Can be negative or positive (as art)

Grammatical Role

Noun, can be both singular and plural

Adjectival Forms


Vandalism and Graffiti Definitions


Behavior causing damage to societal or communal assets.
Vandalism of public transportation affects us all.


Unsanctioned drawings or writings in public spaces.
The city is cracking down on graffiti in subway stations.


The intentional destruction of property.
The vandalism of the statue angered the community.


Art or markings made on walls or surfaces.
The graffiti on the bridge was intricate and colorful.


Defacing objects or structures.
Vandalism on the school walls needs to be cleaned up.


A form of street art or visual communication.
Some consider graffiti a powerful form of social commentary.


Acts of harm against public or private property.
The park has been closed due to recent acts of vandalism.


Vandalistic writing or drawings.
Graffiti on the school’s exterior walls was promptly removed.


Unlawful destruction for the purpose of devaluing property.
The vandalism to the storefront will cost thousands to repair.


Drawings or inscriptions made on a wall or other surface, usually without permission and so as to be seen by the public.


Willful or malicious damage or destruction of the property of another.


Drawings or words drawn on a surface in a public place, usually made without authorization.
The underpass is a popular place for graffiti artists.
The city council spends thousands of pounds removing graffiti from public buildings.


Willful damage to or destruction of any property, such as graffiti or defacement.
As we turned down the street I was appalled by the vandalism: spray paint and smashed windows that were everywhere.


Informal inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., as opposed to official inscriptions.


The spirit or conduct of the Vandals; ferocious cruelty; hostility to the arts and literature, or willful destruction or defacement of any object of beauty or value.


(transitive) To mark a surface with such images.


Willful wanton and malicious destruction of the property of others


Inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs, or at Pompeii.


Any writings or drawings on a surface in a public place, placed there without authorization of the owner of the object on which it is written. Such graffiti are usually unwelcome, and are considered as form of vandalism.


A rude decoration inscribed on rocks or walls


Public inscriptions or images that may be artistic.
The graffiti in the alley is a popular subject for photographers.


Are Vandalism and Graffiti illegal?

Generally, both are illegal without owner consent, but graffiti can be legal if permitted.

What is Vandalism?

Vandalism is the intentional destruction or defacement of property without consent.

What is Graffiti?

Graffiti is a form of vandalism that involves writing or drawing on surfaces but can also be considered art.

Is Graffiti always Vandalism?

No, graffiti can be a form of art when done with permission.

Can Graffiti be a plural noun?

Yes, "graffiti" can function as both a singular and plural noun.

Is Vandalism ever justified?

Vandalism is generally not justified as it involves the destruction of property.

How is Vandalism punished?

Vandalism can result in fines, community service, or imprisonment.

How do Vandalism and Graffiti differ?

Vandalism is a broader term, while graffiti specifically relates to writings or drawings.

What are the grammatical roles of Vandalism and Graffiti?

Both are primarily used as nouns in American English.

Is Graffiti a form of art?

Graffiti can be considered art when done with skill and permission.

Is Graffiti punishable by law?

Unsanctioned graffiti is usually punishable, often with fines or community service.

Do both Vandalism and Graffiti have adjectival forms?

Yes, "vandalistic" for vandalism and "graffitied" for graffiti.

What’s the public perception of Vandalism and Graffiti?

Vandalism is mostly viewed negatively, while graffiti can have both negative and positive perceptions.

How do Vandalism and Graffiti affect property value?

Both can decrease property value, although some sanctioned graffiti may increase it.

Is Graffiti considered a subcategory of Vandalism?

Graffiti is often viewed as a specific form of vandalism but can also stand apart as art.
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
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.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons