Somebody took my things without asking me, without my knowledge and didn't return them back to me.

Is 'stolen' word appropriate to represent this situation? (e.g. He stole my things.) If not, what would be the proper word?

EDIT: What incident actually took place: In my absence, someone took the duster and marker pens and never returned them back to me. So I was looking for a suitable word. I googled for meaning of stolen, but I felt it wouldn't be proper to say so.

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    In the future, please include some research in your question (look up the word you're not sure about, tell us what you've found and why your doubts persist).
    – user3395
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 14:33
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    Whether this word is idiomatic depends a lot on context. What did this person take? Do you know who took the item? Are they are stranger or acquaintance? Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 23:38
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    Also, please note that ‘return […] back’ is a redundancy; ‘return’ is standard.
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 23:38
  • Or, "give ... back".
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 6:13
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    @maverick_devil I would probably just say that someone took my pens from the classroom while I was away. This describes that they were stolen without actually calling anyone a thief, which is more diplomatic. At least in the US, being accused of stealing is usually quite offensive to people. Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 20:35

5 Answers 5


Technically, "stolen" is a suitable word.

However, depending on a number of factors, different people may use different words in different situations. Example: kleptomania is also stealing. (to be more precise, the result of kleptomania is stealing)

If confronted, the person might claim that it was a simple borrowing, but he did not have a chance to tell you or to return the object - yet.

Note: if that happened in an office (in other places also), using this word loudly, especially with several people present, will surely attract a bad energy on you, and it will destroy some of your reputation.

So in this case, it is much better (politically correct) to say: "took my things without asking me, without my knowledge and didn't return them back to me" - simply because "to steal" is a very strong word.

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    Reputation or not, if someone takes without permission, yes they took the item(s) and it was stealing. It may be a strong word but it is true and accurate. Took can imply with permission. Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 9:32
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    @ChrisRogers: did you read the first sentence I wrote? By definition, "take" does not imply permission or denial or anything.
    – virolino
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 10:24
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    This should be the accepted answer, since the dangerous connotations of the term "stealing" may not be apparent to the OP. "Stealing" is a crime, and in many English-speaking countries, false accusations of crime may be considered libelous. One needs to be careful when choosing words in this case.
    – Xerxes
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 13:12
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    +1 for Virolino's full answer. It would be irresponsible to tell a language learner "yes, go ahead and use 'stolen'" without explaining the possible consequences. The suggested sentence ("took my things without...") is a simple, objective exposition, and allows the listener to draw their own conclusions. To use "stole" is a conclusion, a judgement and an accusation, and needs far more consideration than just relying on a dictionary definition.
    – CCTO
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 13:34
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    If you're working at Initech and stop by Bill's office and see your red stapler on his desk, you don't accuse him of "stealing" or "taking" your stapler -- at least not unless your intent is to burn bridges (and/or the office building). More likely you'd say "Oh hey, there's my stapler! Hey Bill, I'd appreciate it if you'd ask me next time you needed to borrow it... that'd be great."
    – Doktor J
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 19:48

Stolen is the past participle of steal which is:

to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force.
A pickpocket stole his watch.

So yes, stolen is an appropriate word to use when somebody took your things without asking you.

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    While you're not wrong, most other dictionaries include a clause relating to return of the item: such as Oxford, Cambridge, Collins and the transitive verb form in M-W. Depending on circumstances, there might be the honest intention to return which would make the items 'borrowed without permission'.
    – mcalex
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 9:25

Yes, "stole" or "stolen" means this.

  • to take something without the permission or knowledge of the owner and keep it or use it:

... He never paid me back, so basically he ended up stealing a hundred dollars from me.

-- Cambridge Dictionary

The only exception I can think of would be if it was a person in authority, who was authorized by law to take it. This would not be considered stealing.

The police officer, under orders from a judge, took my things without asking me, without my knowledge and didn't return them back to me.

The tax authority took my things without asking me, without my knowledge and didn't return them back to me.

  • I like your alternatives, but in some people's view, taxes and confiscation via court is stealing :-) To my view, even if it is by court order, if the court order or warrant is not presented at the time or prior to taking the items, it is technically still stealing. Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 9:38
  • @ChrisR - Even the definition in your answer says, "to take without permission or right." There are many exceptions where someone might take something without permission and most would agree that "stealing" is not the most precise term, including: court-ordered confiscation, a parent taking something away from a child, and maybe even someone borrowing something from a close friend or neighbor, depending on the closeness of the relationship. If I wasn't at my desk and a colleague needed a book off my bookshelf, I'd be unlikely to accuse him of "stealing" it, even if he forgot to return it.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 16:13

To say

Someone stole my things.

implies that the things were taken intentionally, not by mistake; that the things were taken with the intention of never returning them, but rather with the intent of keeping or selling or disposing of them; and that the things were taken with a malicious or criminal intention, not with any innocent purpose.

That may all be true, but perhaps not all of it is. By saying "stolen" one is taking a hard line, which may cause problems if the things were taken by mistake, or with the intention of returning them, or for some legitimate purpose.

One can soften the word. for example by saying:

It seems that my things were stolen.


I think that my things may have been stolen. No one asked to borrow them.


Yeah, in this situation the word 'stolen' is appropriate.

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