One definition of criminality is

a criminal act

which is exactly what a crime is. I realize that both crime and criminality can be collective nouns for acts of unlawfulness as when we say

Violent crime in the US has dropped over the last two decades.

And here's a link to a site that discusses

the possible connection between environmental lead levels and the drop in criminality

But I'm confused as to whether there's a difference between the two words. For instance, here's a book title

Environmental Crime and Criminality: Theoretical and Practical Issues

If the two words meant the same thing, the inclusion of both in the title would be redundant. This implies a difference. But here's another book title

Crimes by the Capitalist State: An Introduction to State Criminality

The colon implies that the following words are a restatement of the foregoing words and thus that the two words mean the same thing.

Can someone explain this to me?

  • The main difference is that they have different entries in most dictionaries.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 18, 2016 at 2:23
  • 1
    The phrase "fighting crime" suggests fighting many instances of crime, taken in aggregate. "Fighting criminality" suggests fighting a mindset or a pattern of behavior that produces instances of crime.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 18, 2016 at 2:26
  • 1
    Personally, I think there is a legitimate question here, since the one definition of criminality being similar to another definition of crime. (Comp: "1. A criminal practice or act" | " 2. An act committed in violation of the law [...]" from The American Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition). With that having been said, the rules require questioners to demonstrate research in their post before asking, and tell us what confuses them before questions may be asked, so I'm flagging this as gen. ref. regardless.
    – Tonepoet
    Aug 18, 2016 at 3:54
  • 2
    Welcome to EL&U. The users here are often very helpful once we know exactly what the issue is. The differences between two words can be easily looked up in a dictionary, so that's probably not it. Maybe you're referring to the connotations of the words, etc. Can you edit your question and elaborate? It would also be good to know what your own thoughts are on this topic.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 18, 2016 at 4:12
  • CD, OALD, and M-W don't carry this sense for 'criminality', and Lexico adds the caveats 'rare; legal register; when used usually in plural' (paraphrasing). AHD and R H K Webster's carry the sense without caveat. Overall, I'd say it's better to restrict word choice to 'crime' if 'act of crime' is intended (Gricean reasoning). May 10 at 15:47

4 Answers 4


You might find the Collins dictionary entries helpful:


  1. the state or quality of being criminal
  2. (often plural) rare a criminal act or practice

And the law related ones for crime


  1. an act or omission prohibited and punished by law
  2. a. unlawful acts in general ⇒ a wave of crime b. (as modifier) ⇒ crime wave

For criminality it lists the state of being criminal first. Generally dictionaries try to sort their order of meanings according to how much a word is used that way. Additionally they added rare to the second meaning, indicating even less usage of that way.

Crime on the other hand primarily describes singular acts and all generalizations second.

Etymology-wise they have two different origins criminality stems from the French criminalité (1610s), while [crime] is older: mid-13c., "sinfulness," from Old French crimne

  • That 'rare' caveat is key. Aug 18, 2016 at 22:13

As per my opinion, Crime: simply defined as violation of law.
Criminality: the state or fact of being or involved in criminal activity. Criminality focuses on etiology of crime. While crime is just general term those who violate state defined law.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to EL&U. Please take a moment to tour the site and read the help center. This answer would benefit from a citation or reference instead of an opinion. I encourage you to edit and hope you will contribute more research.
    – livresque
    Dec 3, 2020 at 6:00

Crime is a noun. It names the genera of criminal acts, say a robbery or a burglary. For example,

Burglary is a crime


Robbery is a crime

Criminality names the notion of a crime, for example:

The criminality of the afore-mentioned act is contested.


His criminality knew no bounds.


Words require context for their meaning to be understood.

David Cameron, the presiding British Prime Minister, referred to the "criminality" taking place during the "England riots" between 6 and 11 August 2011. The crimes included:

Rioting, looting, arson, robbery, assault and murder.

I think David Cameron used the phrase "all this criminality" to suggest that this was a temporary but intolerable state of unrest and that some of the crime was being committed by citizens who would normally be law-abiding. He was in the position whereby thousands of people committed crimes, perhaps too many to find and prosecute to the fullest degree.

Obviously, the murders would be fully investigated and prosecuted where possible, but Cameron was appealing to the people to stop "all this criminality" as if it were uncharacteristic waywardness.


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