Number one for English language teachers

Theme-based expressions: crime and punishment

Type: Article

Let Tim Bowen be your partner in crime with these handy themed-based expressions.

crime and punishment

Prisons exist in most societies and are often the topic of conversation, so it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of terms exist that describe the experience of being in prison in various informal ways. 

The word inside can be used to mean ‘in prison’, as in ‘The poor guy spent three years inside for something he didn’t do’. The expression doing porridge is another way of saying that someone is serving time in prison and behind bars can also be used. 

The term partner in crime is used to refer to someone who you do something with, especially something that other people do not approve of, as in ‘I suppose your partner in crime in setting up this practical joke was your brother’. 

Of course, crime doesn’t pay (no good will come of it in the end) and criminals usually end up in the dock (in court facing a judge). The latter expression can also be used to indicate that a person, a group of people or an organization faces strong criticism for something they have done, as in ‘The government finds itself in the dock over its taxation proposals’. 

Apart from criminals and judges, the third group involved in this area of human activity is the police. The term the long arm of the law can be used to refer to the police and their ability to catch criminals, as in ‘He was hiding somewhere in Brazil, well out of reach of the long arm of the law’.

Teaching tip: ask learners to use an English-English dictionary or a search engine to find the meaning of these phrases, which can also be used idiomatically and which are also related to crime and punishment: on the run, a guest of Her Majesty, as thick as thieves, banged up, doing time, be caught red-handed.

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