Definition of pilfer in English:


Pronunciation /ˈpilfər/ /ˈpɪlfər/

transitive verb

[with object]
  • Steal (typically things of relatively little value)

    ‘she produced the handful of coins she had managed to pilfer’
    as noun pilfering ‘no system is proof against pilfering if people are determined enough’
    • ‘The bad guys steal your mail or pilfer your trash, coming up with enough personal information to apply for bank accounts, credit cards and loans with your name and credit rating but with their address.’
    • ‘Fights were sometimes orchestrated under false pretences, so that inmates could swipe and pilfer a target person's store items.’
    • ‘After all, these nightly visitors aren't there to snitch snapdragons or pilfer peas.’
    • ‘Ahmad manages to pilfer a box of medicine, but it's not enough.’
    • ‘Frankly, with a vast online knowledge base at your fingertips, it would be a miracle if people didn't swipe a phrase here or pilfer a juicy paragraph there.’
    • ‘Jiji nearly steals the show and definitely pilfers a few scenes.’
    • ‘It's also because it has the clearest and least ridiculous plotline of the films - essentially because it pilfers such reliable stories as the King Arthur legends, The Wizard of Oz and WWII aviation flicks, among others.’
    • ‘An ingenious scheme has seen pilfering attendants fired, to be replaced by deaf-and-dumb individuals recruited through their national association for the equivalent of £2 a match.’
    • ‘Scotland's places of worship - tired of light-fingered visitors pilfering everything from candles to crosses - have hit upon an ingenious way of enforcing the eighth commandment.’
    • ‘Instead, most property is owned provisionally or even illegally, which means that large numbers of people live off the grid, escaping taxes and pilfering their utilities.’
    • ‘In fact, seeing a man pilfering food will tell you nothing about the causes of poverty, just as (so Brecht remarked) putting a factory on stage will tell you nothing about capitalism.’
    • ‘If there is any discrepancy there could be urgent grounds for our Integrity Commission to act in order to determine who is pilfering the public purse and to take appropriate action.’
    • ‘He says it was easy - not because he was a master thief but because pilfering jeans was the last thing anyone expected a young, middle-class white dude to do.’
    • ‘It was still early morning when Skipper and Dodger returned with the camels to find other Warlpiri pilfering the last of the supplies and other useful items.’
    • ‘After bullying and pilfering his way through childhood, he signed up as a soldier and took full advantage of the administrative mayhem of Revolutionary France.’
    • ‘Earlier, they were satisfied with getting access to the car and taking away the stereos, or pilfering anything kept inside.’
    • ‘A trusted church warden has been jailed for a year after he was caught pilfering tens of thousands of pounds from a village charity fund.’
    • ‘On board two passengers have just proposed marriage while the rest are now busy pilfering the safety instruction cards.’
    • ‘Wedding and death ceremonies have pilfered their terminology from The Book of Common Prayer.’
    • ‘The essence of democracy - our power to control the decisions that affect us - has steadily been pilfered by corporate kleptocrats.’
    steal, purloin, take, take for oneself, help oneself to, loot, pilfer, abscond with, run off with, appropriate, abstract, carry off, shoplift
    View synonyms


Late Middle English (as a noun in the sense ‘action of pilfering, something pilfered’): from Old French pelfrer ‘to pillage’, of unknown origin. Compare with pelf.



/ˈpilfər/ /ˈpɪlfər/