Does there exist a specific word to describe the action of stealing an item, keeping it for a few days then returning it from where it was taken?

An example: A friend of mine "lost" his personal diary for few days while in the college hostel. Someone (unknown to the owner) was definitely interested in reading about his life story. He found the diary on the table after a week. So someone stole it temporarily and gave it back.

Is there is a specific term or phrase to describe this action performed by the person who stole and later returned the item?

Edit: Thought I clearly posted the question. But this has turned out to be something totally different. The question is just about the action of the person who used the item and replaced it without the owner's consent. I don't think my example really captured what I wanted to ask.

Assume that a person is in need of an item and so he searches for it. The person finds the item somewhere then steals it and leaves the place and remains a silent observer. He uses the stolen item for his personal gain and also looks out what's happening in the place where he stole the item. The owner of the item and friends start searching for it and they don't get it. Now this person feels like he might get caught or he might have finished using the item as long as he wants and he stealthily places the item in its original place when the owner is not around. This has nothing to do with the owner's memory. I am just asking about the action of the person who stole it initially and then replaced it.

If borrow is the word for it, then the owner should be able to say, "A person borrowed my precious item without my consent." But I don't know if it captures the stealing intent of that person. I hope I made it clear.

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    If the situation involved a car it would be called joyriding. I don't know if there is a similar term for other items.
    – bradimus
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:34
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    "borrowed"? Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:37
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    @bradimus That just means stealing and riding recklessly right? It doesn't answer my question of returning the car. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:37
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    @FumbleFingers When someone borrows, the lender knows that they have given the item to the person who borrows. But here the case is totally different. Someone stole the item instead of borrowing. Am I right? Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:39
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    That's why I put it "in quotes". But it's a common facetious usage in the "unauthorized" context. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 13:41

11 Answers 11


Consider, Indian taking

Indian taker

Informal. Offensive A person who steals your property but returns the stolen property to you at a later date.

The car thief stole my car but was nice enough to return it the next day. What an Indian taker piece of shit.

Urban Dictionary

Indian giver

One who takes or demands back one's gift to another, as in Jimmy wanted to take back Dan's birthday present, but Mom said that would make him an Indian giver. This term, now considered offensive, originally alluded to the Native American practice of expecting a gift in return for one that is given. [; early 1800s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary

  • This answer hurts me since I am an Indian. :P Anyway, I think this is the best answer! Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 3:49
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    "Indian taker" is not a common term.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 2:15
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    I've never heard this and would have no idea what it meant
    – minseong
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 13:28

Here's an expanded version of my earlier comment, as suggested. The dictionary definitions are straightforward and some have been provided by others. I'll just link to them as necessary rather than print them in full here.

There are two actions here: taking the item, and then bringing it back. Based on the title, what happens to the item in between those two actions is provided as background knowledge but outside the scope of this question.

The first action is theft, and the question's clarifying edit makes it explicit that it is stealing.

Since the item is returned, it can also be said to have an element of borrowing, except that borrowing casts it in a more innocent light than warranted.

The owner might charitably consider the whole activity to be unauthorised borrowing. To someone who knows the facts as presented in the clarifying edit, it is the theft and return of the goods.

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    In the UK at least "theft" requires the intention to permanently deprive Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 20:12
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    @MartinSmith Thanks for shedding light on UK law. In the OP's clarifying edit, the person who took the item only returned it to avoid getting caught. That suggests the initial intent included permanent deprivation. Returning the goods later doesn't change the initial intent. If this was a real account, further investigation would be justified. As a story told from an omniscient point of view that labels the miscreant's actions as stealing, the initial act was theft as the word is commonly used and, as the story seems to suggest, in the legal sense also if UK law applies.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 23:27
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    Drawing on my law background, I believe that the unsatisfying gulf between theft-and-return and unauthorized borrowing is what the law calls mens rea: the intention of the thief/borrower at the time of the taking. In law, as mentioned bellow, this gulf is bridged by the act of "conversion," but that term is not understood by a lay audience. Therefore, and adjective or adverb with one of the above phrases could tweak the phrase to the desired level of malfeasance. Something as simple as malicious borrowing covers some of the elements, but it doesn't address the covert actions. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 15:52

Stealing and then returning it is of course stealing. If the thief has a bad conscience and returns the goods, or is afraid that he or she may be found out and returns the goods, it is still stealing. I assume that you meant "Taking something away without permission or knowledge of the owner and later returning it".

This will have some legal consequences, which will be depending on where exactly you live. It might be legally theft, it might not. Some places have special laws for joyriders who take a car, drive around, and will always claim they intended to return it, so this is illegal and punished the same as theft, even if it isn't.

But we are talking about language, not about laws. You can call it whatever you like even if it doesn't match the laws of your country. You can say "To me, it's stealing, I don't care what the law says", if that's what you think. In written language, you can call it "borrowing" in quotes, including the quotes, because it is similar to borrowing but you are not convinced that it is the same.

The "diary" case I would call a severe violation of the privacy of the diary owner. Compare it to another diary owner who has bought a new diary for 2017 already and that empty diary gets stolen and not returned; that diary owner will probably be a lot happier than the one whose full diary with personal notes was taken away and returned.

To avoid confusion, you can say "Someone took X away without my permission and returned it three days later". Then everyone knows what you mean. As long as you don't know the situation, it's hard to say more. I have two neighbours, one is quite Ok, but I hate the other one. If A asked for my lawn mower, they would get it. B wouldn't. Now my lawnmower disappears for a day and returns. It makes a difference to me whether A or B took it.

  • Yes. I was just expecting a phrase for "Someone took X away without my permission and returned it Y days later". If there is nothing short to capture this, then I will have to use the sentence as it is. I thought there would be some word to describe this surreptitious action performed by the person who stole in the first place. I just wanted a word which captures both the action - stealing and returning. Not to concentrate on any one particular action. Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 9:57
  • +1 for mentioning joy-riding, which is as close to this concept as I can find in an english idiom.
    – Solocutor
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 23:44

I would be tempted to use the verb misappropriate. This gives the idea that the thing was wrongfully or deviously taken, but does not necessarily imply that the thing was stolen. We can also say that the item was misappropriated if it was given back later. Misappropriate really means to come into possession of through wrongful means, but it does not stipulate that the thing is kept forever, or that it was necessarily stolen.

We should note, however, that the verb misappropriate does not imply that the thing be returned to its owner. Nonetheless, it seems to be an appropriate verb given the circumstances.

Here is the definition of misappropriate from Oxford Dictionaries Online:


Pronunciation: /mɪsəˈprəʊprɪeɪt/



Dishonestly or unfairly take (something, especially money, belonging to another) for one’s own use:

  • the report revealed that department officials had misappropriated funds

More example sentences

  • After the high increase in council tax and an exceptional increase in essential services costs in rural areas, to give £1m or even £0.5m of our taxes to this project is misappropriating our money.

  • It was essentially a sort of collaboration across both things and I completely reject the view that I was misappropriating money.

  • He talked about the Government misappropriating money, which is theft.

  • Does one misappropriate a diary? "His diary was misappropriated" ....? What about a lost pair of sunglasses, an umbrella, or a suitcase or any object you purposely steal? Do thieves misappropriate stolen money? Although it is a great word, it doesn't fit with the OP's scenario.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 7:50
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, you can misappropriate a diary, a shirt, money, jewelry an idea, pretty much anything. We wouldn't say that a bank robber misappropriated his loot because of the violence involved. Otherwise you can misappropriate anything you like. Admittedly it's often used in a sightly tongue-in-cheek sense when applied to something trivial. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 8:14
  • So someone finds/takes a diary, keeps it a few days then returns it, and that is misappropriation? If I read someone's personal diary in secret, I am misappropriating it? fraze.it/n_search.jsp?q=misappropriation&l=0 I really don't think so. And if it's tongue in cheek, then you should say so in the answer. E.g. He said he has found no evidence that any money was misappropriated or embezzled.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 8:16
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    And if you had read my comment carefully, you would have seen "vast majority" :) BTW Gnasher's answer is probably the best out of the lot.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 9:52
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    @Mari-LouA But I'm suggesting a non-vast-majority more colourful usage! :-) Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 9:54

It is called stealing.

To take (the property of another) without right or permission; to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, esp. secretly or by force. (AHDEL/Random House, TFD)

Some define stealing by intent (the intent being not to return the item.) If the intent is to return it, the word borrow applies:

to take and use (something that belongs to someone else) for a period of time before returning it (MW); to obtain or receive (something, such as money) on loan for temporary use, intending to give it, or something equivalent or identical, back to the lender (AHDEL, TFD)

Borrowing usually implies asking, but not always, especially if the owner is unavailable at the moment.

In your case, I think "borrow" with quotes, as offered by @FumbleFingers" (or, to surreptitiously borrow) would be the best answer.

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    I think "borrow" is probably the best term for OP's context, but I can't help noticing that both you and I are being careful to include "scare quotes" for that usage. By implication, we know we're stretching the meaning a bit (in speech, you might add some "unnatural stress" or wiggle your fingers as "air quotes" to make your meaning crystal clear). That's to say borrow doesn't precisely fit without some more-or-less-explicit non-verbal associated element of communication. There probably isn't a well-known verb with exactly and only the required "unauthorised" sense here. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:41
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    @FumbleFingers - I agree completely. I think that comes from our ethical stands though. Some people might think nothing of borrowing without permission (a few dollars, a pack of cigarettes, the car) from someone with the intent to replace if they weren't available to ask, so borrow may still fit. But the scare quotes are a must for me, because "borrowing" someone's diary is shady under most all circumstances. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:55
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    +1 Perhaps unauthorised borrowing would fit, but it's really stealing and then restoring/returning if there wasn't some prior understanding to allow it.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:15
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    There's still a bit of a problem with OP's specific example, because even though the actual diary is returned (with or without the owner ever knowing that it had been taken), the thief still has the information (secrets he obtained access to by reading it). It's not meaningfully possible to "return" the "privacy" that was obviously what the thief really stole. But I'm not yet clear on whether it's central to OP's context that the thief was just making temporary use of something subsequently returned, in order to really steal something else accessible through it. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:21
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    @FumbleFingers, like "Borrowing" a key so that I could open your safe and take the money out of it. You have the key back, so everything is fine,,, right?
    – Karl
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:56

The legal term is called "conversion." That is, someone "converted" your item to his use.

Conversion differs from stealing insofar as the "lost" item is eventually returned to the owner after it was used by the converter. Whereas "stealing" is done with the intent, or at least the effect, of permanently depriving someone of something.

For instance, if someone "pinches" your car, takes a "joyride" with it, and then returns it to your driveway, that would be "conversion."

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    +1, however, the definition and legal application of this term varies widely. In the South, it got tangled up with slavery, where a person who hired an escaped slave was chargeable with property conversion. This was to discourage the hiring of escaped slaves. The result is a very convoluted set of case law regarding conversion. I gather that when it used these days, it is almost exclusively with regards to misappropriating money, not property.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 3:37

He sneaked the diary.

I think stole is too strong, because he returned the diary; I think "borrow" is too weak, because he did not provide full restitution -- he retained knowledge he was not meant to have.

(1) sneak according to Vocabulary.com is:

make off with belongings of others

Synonyms: abstract, cabbage, filch, hook, lift, nobble, pilfer, pinch, purloin, snarf, swipe. Type of: steal take without the owner's consent

The same reference also says:

The word sneak has many shades of meaning, but all involve doing something in a secretive or stealthy way.

The villain of the OP's example behaved in a sneaky fashion, both in taking the diary and in returning it.

A full sentence describing the example would be:

A sneak took my diary and sneaked it back a week later.

(If you go to my source, you will find sneak as a noun and sneak as doing something furtively, in addition to the definition I posted above.)


I would say 'borrowing' over 'stealing', primarily because the question title has an added element of "then returning it".

Here's a movie clip showing a clear contrast between 'stealing' and 'borrowing': Captain America clip

The clip starts with this conversation:

Natasha Romanoff: Where did Captain America learn how to steal a car?

Captain America: Nazi Germany. And we're borrowing. Take your feet off the dash.


Run away with something:

to steal something, or to borrow something without asking


The most accurate single-word term for a situation where a finder discovers an abandoned item but permanently maintains possession of it, is called theft-by-finding

Wikipedia provides a succinct definition

Theft by finding occurs when someone who chances upon an object which seems abandoned takes possession of the object but fails to take steps to establish whether the object is abandoned and not merely lost or unattended.* In some jurisdictions the crime is called "larceny by finding" or "stealing by finding"

Having said that, if the finder returns the object at a much later date, the owner might comment that somebody had "forgotten" to return the diary.

Can I Be Accused of Stealing Something I Borrowed If I Forget to Return It?

Anyone can make the honest mistake of forgetting to return a borrowed item, no matter how aggravating it might be for the rightful owner. And while the person from whom you borrowed the item may wonder whether he or she may ever receive it back, your actions do not amount to theft if you just merely forgot to return the item. From a legal perspective, in order to be accused of stealing, or theft, you would need to have had the intent to never return the item to its rightful owner.

In the situation described by the OP, and not summed up in the question title, as long as the property is returned to its rightful owner, the person who "found" the item cannot be accused of stealing.

In @medica's answer, she is correct in saying

Borrowing usually implies asking, but not always, especially if the owner is unavailable at the moment.

However, a lender knows or can guess who the borrower is even if that person hasn't asked permission. For instance, a son/daughter may "borrow" one of his parents' car keys without permission. If neither the car keys nor the child are at home, the parents usually understand what has happened.

In the OP's scenario, no one knows who "found" the diary, and they don't know if the finder read the contents of the diary. Where is the proof? The person who "lost" their diary never found out who replaced it back a week later. Someone who finds a coin in the street and pockets it, hasn't borrowed money, they have kept it for themselves. If someone finds a twenty euro/dollar/pound note lying somewhere, and they do not attempt to find its rightful owner, the finder has effectively taken in possession something that was not legally theirs to take.

A criminal charge of theft (or larceny) generally requires the specific intent to permanently deprive another individual of his or her property. If you legitimately forgot to return a borrowed item to its rightful owner, then you lacked specific intent to steal the item. As with other specific intent crimes, much stronger and more credible evidence is required in order for the prosecution to establish guilt. -

Source: http://criminal.findlaw.com/

  • The point being that the OP's friend doesn't know if his diary was stolen, or if the finder "forgot" to return it back.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:48
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    I think 'borrow' would sound as a good excuse .....I'd call it a "dispetto".
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 7:53
  • Keeping lost items is often theft. Keeping abandoned items isn't. I abandon items that I don't want anymore. You are free to keep abandoned items, but not lost ones.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 9:20
  • @gnasher729 a sizeable amount of money is never abandoned money, and a diary left on a table could said to be abandoned, the point is the "finder" didn't keep it. S/he returned it, late, where s/he found it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 11:25
  • it might be called surreptitious borrowing.
    – Xanne
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 1:55


req·ui·si·tion ˌrekwəˈziSH(ə)n/ noun

1. an official order laying claim to the use of property or materials. "I had to make various requisitions for staff and accommodations" synonyms: order, request, call, application, claim, demand "we have submitted our requisition for additional staff" verb

1. demand the use or supply of, especially by official order and for military or public use. "the government had assumed powers to requisition cereal products at fixed prices" synonyms: commandeer, appropriate, take over, take possession of, occupy, seize, confiscate, expropriate "their house was requisitioned by the army"

or maybe Appropriate?

ap·pro·pri·ate adjective əˈprōprēət/

1. suitable or proper in the circumstances. "a measure appropriate to a wartime economy" synonyms: suitable, proper, fitting, apt, right; More verb əˈprōprēˌāt/

1. take (something) for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission. "his images have been appropriated by advertisers" synonyms: seize, commandeer, expropriate, annex, arrogate, sequestrate, sequester, take over, hijack More

2. devote (money or assets) to a special purpose. "there can be problems in appropriating funds for legal expenses" synonyms: allocate, assign, allot, earmark, set aside, devote, apportion "we are appropriating funds for these expenses"

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