I am wondering why you can say "I robbed a bank and stole the money..." or "I robbed a post office..." or "The bus was robbed while the passengers were at the restaurant"

But it sounds extremely strange to say:

"Last night, my car was robbed and they took my stereo, my money and all of my CDs."

The more common way to express that would be my car was broken into but why can't you say my car was robbed or my purse was robbed"?

  • Because when your car was stolen it was you who were robbed, not your car.
    – Jim
    Apr 27, 2016 at 21:54
  • I am not talking about my car being stolen I am talking about the things inside
    – Masha
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:12

3 Answers 3


The major difference between the verbs steal and rob -- which can both refer to the same event --
is that the object of steal is the thing stolen, but the object of rob is the owner of the thing stolen.

  • He stole $3,000/a Maserati/everything.
  • He robbed the bank/Harry/everybody.

but not

  • *He robbed $3,000/a Maserati/everything.
  • *He stole the bank/Harry/everybody.
  • You could say "He stole the bank" if he physically removed the building from its location (unlikely, but there have been stranger heists), or if he somehow stole control of the bank corporation (I'm certain this has happened many times).
    – zwol
    Apr 28, 2016 at 1:50

I think part of the reason that the ideas of "robbing a bank" or a "train robbery" make sense is the implication that the people inside (or the organization itself) are the real victims of the theft. Corporations are often thought of as entities (e.g. Google says...) but I don't think that most people think of cars as living entities in the same way. I think when a container or similar inanimate object is stolen from, it is "burgled" rather than "robbed."


Legally, robbery is a particular form of theft

the direct taking of property (including money) from a person (victim) through force, threat or intimidation.


Breaking into a house at night, with no one home, is not robbery. Nor is the taking of a car (or its contents) when the owner is not around. Carjacking, on the other hand, is robbery.

Surreptitiously pilfering a purse is probably not robbery, but purse snatching, especially violently is.

In lay parlance, we use these terms loosely. (Technically, in many jurisdictions, assault is not hitting, battery is.)

  • Technically, assault is not hitting, battery is. It depends on the jurisdiction. In New York State, physical injury is an element of all crimes of assault. In other jurisdictions, assault is the threat; battery is the physical contact.
    – deadrat
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:03
  • So what about when it is said that "A bank was robbed last night" meaning after hours while no one was there. Or is there a different term for that as well?
    – Masha
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:14
  • If there is no guard on duty, robbery is not the right term (technically, but do we [other than us lawyers] really care)?
    – bib
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:17
  • @deadrat Yeah, that's the general common law vs. state law thing. Almost all these terms are jurisdictionally sensitive.
    – bib
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:19
  • 1
    @Masha Breaking into the bank with the intent to steal is called burglary. Burglarize is the verb, and there is a colloquial back-formation burgle. Actually taking something from the bank is theft or larceny. Thieve is the verb, but its use is intransitive, "to be a thief"; you don't say "I thieved a bank."
    – deadrat
    Apr 27, 2016 at 23:29

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