Karen closed her accounts, only to have the criminal crack open the new ones she'd opened and drain those too.

Before this sentence, the passage stated that a criminal stole Karen's purse, which contained her ID card and some credit cards. Then the criminal used the credit cards to scam thousands of dollars from her.

So what does "crack" mean here? Is it a verb or noun? I feel it should be something like "deceive", but I cannot find a proper definition in my dictionary. If it is a verb, how do I interpret the word "open" after it? Does the word "crack" have some such use as crack do sth.? If it is a noun, what's the exact meaning of it? Thanks.

  • 1
    Crack is a verb. Open is a preposition. Crack open is a verbal idiom, the sort of thing that is often called a "phrasal verb". – snailboat Dec 19 '13 at 3:04

The verb crack is used here in the sense of to break. (When you break something, it is quite likely that it will also make a sound of cracking.)

Perhaps you might be a bit more familiar with this usage:

Police said they have cracked the case of ...

It is quite natural that the acts of "cracking" and "opening" usually come together. Thus, the phrase verb: crack open. Here is its definition by the Free Dictionary,

crack open

[for something brittle] to break or split open. The egg cracked open and a chick worked its way out. The side of the mountain cracked open and molten lava flowed out.

The sentence in your question means: the criminal cracked open the new accounts she had opened. Usually, to crack open a bank account is not an easy thing to do.

Also note that, crack open can also mean open just only a little (see "Would you please crack open the window?" in J.R.'s answer). I also recommend reading the whole of J.R.'s answer.

  • +1 But it would be even better if you provided a transitive use of crack open. – StoneyB Dec 19 '13 at 14:43

When crack is used with open, that's usually to indicate one of two things:

  • Something is opened only by a small amount, i.e., only by the size of a crack
  • Something is opened but it was not easy to open (this is the usage in your question)

Examples of the first usage would include:

Would you please crack open the window? (i.e., open it just a little bit; I don't want it wide open)

Examples of the second usage typically involve things like nuts, safes, and computer accounts.

When opening something with a hard shell (like a walnut, or a cooked lobster claw), you typically do so by cracking it open. There's often a challenge involved; sometimes you can't even do it without the aid of a tool (although there are some exceptions, such as an egg, which will crack open relatively easily).

Words like "safecracking" refer to that challenging aspect of opening a safe. You don't want to open the safe just a little bit, you want to open the safe by some illicit means. The same goes for computer accounts – the difference between logging in to an account and cracking open an account is the amount of work involved with obtaining the password or hacking the account.

  • As a footnote, I just earned a secret hat ~ I'd like to crack open the secret of how I did that. – J.R. Dec 19 '13 at 14:05
  • They just appeared out of nowhere! – Damkerng T. Dec 19 '13 at 14:10
  • Maybe it's a yegg hat. – Tyler James Young Dec 19 '13 at 23:37

The word "crack" is a verb here, and it is in the subjunctive mood. The specific pattern here is:

have [subject] [present-tense-subjunctive-verb]

Of course, there are patterns with other modal verbs and so forth.

For instance:

I'll have Johnny do his homework

I will have you kids be quiet.

Bob had the plumber fix the boiler.

I watched the seagull crack open the clam by dropping it.

For most verbs, the present tense subjunctive uses the infinitive form. Normally, the verb would conjugate to match the subject: "Johnny does", "kids are" and "plumber fixes".

If you don't have a good feeling for subjunctives, you may be confused by "criminal crack". What is that, the noun "crack"? If it is the verb, why isn't it "criminal cracks?"

Further confusion may be caused by "crack open", where you might suspect that "open" is a verb; when in fact it is an adjective denoting an open state, as in "open book".

If you know subjunctives, but not "crack open", you might be fooled into reading it as:

* had the (criminal crack) [open: subjunctive] the new ones. [Maybe a crack is some kind of person, who can be of a criminal type?]

In fact "crack" is an adjective for someone with great skill; but for this meaning to be in effect, the grammar has to be "crack criminal" not "criminal crack".


To add to J.R.’s last paragraph: in the past few decades, crack (as a verb) has acquired the meaning of “commit computer crime”.  Most people consider crack to be synonymous with hack in this context; some people in the computer security field prefer to use hack to refer to solving difficult computer problems (such as penetrating security systems), without the connotation of malice.  See Is the term “hack” more positive or more negative? on EL&U.


"Crack" means "to break into", as in "safecracking" or "cracking a password".

"Hack" means "to do something fun or useful", as in driving a cab, writing a sports story, playing golf, putting a police car on top of a Great Dome, or "hacking together a computer program".

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