What are the differences between the words Kriminalität, Verbrechen and Delikt? I understand that all of these words have to deal with crime, but I'd like to know what differences there are between them.

Here are 2 sentences where Google Translate (from English to German) uses Kriminalität and Verbrechen:

This is a high crime area. -> Dies ist ein Gebiet mit hoher Kriminalität.

She committed a crime. -> Sie hat ein Verbrechen begangen.

"Delikten" seems to be used much less by Google Translate. When is the word "Delikten" normally used?

  • This must be genitive (or something I'm not sure about) form like "Sie war schon früher wegen mehrerer Arten von Delikten angeklagt". The regular plural form of Delikt is Delikte. A Delikt refers to a Verbrechen done by a particular person. A Verbrechen is a deed / fact described by law in an abstract form, or relying on precedence cases. – πάντα ῥεῖ Feb 27 at 20:04
  • @πάνταῥεῖ I have noticed that "Delikten" is sometimes used in place of the English word "offense" rather than for "crime". "Offense" and "crime" are very similar words in English. "Offense" is essentially a more formal/professional term for "crime", and you will hear that word a lot in a courthouse. I wonder if "Delikten" is also a more formal word for "Kriminalität" or "Verbrechen" in German? – jdnew18 Feb 27 at 20:18
  • "I wonder if "Delikten" is also a more formal word for "Kriminalität" or "Verbrechen" in German?" No, Delikten is a very special plural form used in particular context, e.g. "Die Anzahl an Tötungsdelikten ist im vergangenen Jahr merklich zurückgegangen". – πάντα ῥεῖ Feb 27 at 20:22
  • Is English your native language? Because even in English these two uses of crime clearly differ: the former is the uncountable crime (a lot of crime, little crime, high crime) that just describes criminal activity in general and would be translated as »Kriminalität«, the latter is the countable crime (a crime, the crime, few crimes, many crimes) which described the criminal act itself and would be translated as e.g. »Delikt«, »Vergehen«, »Verbrechen«. – Raketenolli Feb 28 at 9:10
  • @Raketenolli Yes, English is my native language, and I agree that these two uses of "crime" are clearly different and have different meanings. But we still use one word, "crime", in both of the examples, whereas German speakers will use two distinct words between the two examples. I'll admit, my 2nd example isn't necessarily a very realistic example since we wouldn't typically say "She committed a crime", we would typically be more specific by naming a specific crime, like "She committed a burglary" or "She committed a felony (a felony is any serious crime, analogous to a verbrechen)." – jdnew18 Feb 28 at 15:02


Delikt - any criminal activity

Verbrechen - any severe criminal activity

Kriminalität is quite abstract and difficult to explain. In general Kriminalität is every crime against another legal entity, but also a collective term for every crime done in a defined area

Rule of thumb: Every Verbrechen is a Delikt, but not every Delikt is a Verbrechen. German criminal law states, that every crime with a minimum penality of 1 year (3 in Austria & Switzerland) in prison is a Verbrechen. Everything with a minimum penality of less than 1 year is called a Vergehen.

For example: Murder (Tötungsdelikt) is a Verbrechen. Hit and run (Verkehrsdelikt) is a Vergehen. But both are a Delikt.


Delikten is Delikt's Dativ plural form, with no special meaning


As mentioned in the comments there is another legal term

Ordnungswidrigkeit - minor law infringement, punishable by a fine/warning (not prison)

  • 1
    Speeding (at least as long as it does not cause an accident) is actually not even a Vergehen (and hence not a Delikt neither), but only a Ordnungswidrigkeit. – Matthias Feb 27 at 23:11
  • For the sake of completion, I feel like the term Kavaliersdelikt should be mentioned when discussing the difference between Delikt and Verbrechen. – GrottenOlm Feb 28 at 4:22
  • 1
    Delikt may be used not only for a punishable offense but also for an act for which one can claim compensation (damage). I think English legal language has the term tort for that. In this sense, Delikt is synonymous with unerlaubte Handlung in German legal language. – RHa Feb 28 at 9:47
  • @Matthias Not correct. It is only a Ordnungswidrigkeit when your a maximum of 20 km/h faster than what's right. Speeding more can give you, depending on how much, points in Flensburg, temporary driving ban, permanent driving ban, or even inprisonment. And yes, it has happened the someone went 180 in a 30 Zone. This is even in Germany punished. (alltough driving punishedments in Germany are a joke) – miep Feb 28 at 13:16
  • spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/… – miep Feb 28 at 13:19

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