Although the terms “burglary” and “robbery” are often used interchangeably, they actually have two different meanings under the law. When describing a crime that has occurred, each term has a specific definition with different legal consequences. Below are the differences in meaning between burglary and robbery:


Burglary involves entering a building simply for the reason of committing a crime. Although many people think that burglary involves the act of stealing, that isn’t exactly true. While, theft can be the crime that a burglar commits, they also can commit other criminal activities including arson or vandalism once they have entered the building. Entering a building illegally without committing another criminal act is termed as criminal trespassing.

Be aware that the definition of burglary can change somewhat from state to state. Burglary may only apply to residential buildings in some states, while other states include commercial buildings or storage structures.

Entering any building unlawfully is still a crime in all states; however the legal term may be different. Other terms for burglary are “breaking and entering” and “housebreaking.”


The word “robbery” is used for the crime of using force to take something from someone else or threatening to use force. If a weapon is used, the term is “armed robbery” or “aggravated robbery.” Therefore, if you steal someone’s purse, you commit robbery. But if you steal the purse using a knife or gun, then you commit armed robbery.

Crime inherently has a victim, but the act of theft when no one else is present isn’t considered robbery. Once forcing someone else when stealing occurs, the crime changes to robbery. To commit robbery, a person must have intent. Someone who is borrowing an item or intends to create a joke or prank is not committing robbery.

Another consideration is the manner in which the force is used. If intimidation or force is directly related to the theft at that time, then it is robbery. If the threat is for a future occurrence or after the fact, it isn’t considered robbery.

What is the Difference?

To help you understand the difference between burglary and robbery, let’s imagine a scenario in which you are the owner of a retail grocery store. Your store is open and it is during your regular business hours.


The following occurs:

  • A person enters your store, walks around and sticks an apple in their pocket. Then they walk out. This is theft, the act of taking something that didn’t belong to them.
  • A person enters your store, comes up to you at the register and forces you to hand over the money. They have committed robbery–armed robbery if they use a weapon. Force is the key behind the term robbery.

You close your store and leave. It is after business hours.

  • A person breaks into your store after you have closed. They steal candy and food, then leave. This is burglary.
  • A person breaks into your store after you have closed. They set fire to your store and leave. Also burglary (and arson). Burglary is entering illegally to commit a crime.

Are you interested in protecting your home or business? Contact Protect America today to learn more about how you can protect yourself against crime.