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The common law definition of the crime of larceny includes the following elements: (1) The thief must take possession of the property (that is, secure control over the property) from another. (2) The thief must move or carry away the property, although a slight movement is enough, such as the removal of a wallet from another's pocket. (3) There must be a trespass in the taking-that is, the thief must take possession of the property without consent from the rightful possessor. (4) The property must be tangible personal property, such as money, jewelry, or clothing. Under common law larceny does not apply to real property or intangible personal property, such as checks, promissory notes, or other documents that are regarded as evidence of property rather than as property itself. (5) The property must be taken from the possession of another who had a right of possession superior to any right of the accused. It is not necessary, however, that a person steal directly from the owner. (6) There must be an intent to steal-more accurately expressed as an intent to permanently deprive the person from whom the property is taken of possession of or interest in the property. It is not larceny to take another person's property that one honestly believes one owns. It is not larceny to borrow property, intending to return it promptly. A notable exception is the temporary, unauthorized taking of a car, which commonly constitutes the crime of joyriding.

By statute, larceny is often divided into two degrees: grand larceny and petit larceny. The line between the two depends upon the value of the property stolen. Grand larceny is commonly a felony, while petit larceny is a misdemeanor.

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