Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Attempt


What is the dictionary definition of Attempt?

Dictionary Definition

v. and n. to actually try to commit a crime and have the ability to do so. This means more than just thinking about doing a criminal act or planning it without overt action. It also requires the opportunity and ability. Attempts can include attempted murder, attempted robbery, attempted rape, attempted forgery, attempted arson, and a host of other crimes. The person accused cannot attempt to commit murder with an unloaded gun or attempt rape over the telephone. The attempt becomes a crime in itself, and usually means one really tried to commit the crime, but failed through no fault of himself or herself. Example: if a husband laces his wife’s cocktail with cyanide, it is no defense that by chance the intended victim decided not to drink the deadly potion. One defendant claimed he could not attempt rape in an old Model A coupe because it was too cramped to make the act possible. The court threw out this defense. Sometimes a criminal defendant is accused of both the crime (e.g. robbery) and the attempt in case the jury felt he tried but did not succeed.

Full Definition of Attempt

Attempt is an inchoate offence set out in section 1 of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.

The Actus Reus of an attempt is any act that is `more than merely preparatory’ to the offence. To have the Mens Rea for an attempt, the accused must intend to bring about the consequences for the full offence. For example, to be convicted of attempted murder, the accused must have intended to kill the victim, not merely cause him grievous bodily harm, although an intent to kill can be inferred if the jury is satisfied that the accused foresaw death as a virtual certainty.

This is generally the case too if the crime that the accused set out to commit is impossible. For example, if Harry set out to kill William, but William was already dead, Harry could still be convicted of attempted murder. This is a factual impossibility. If Charles set out to break into a safe to steal its contents with a screwdriver, a method that is doomed to fail, then he should not escape conviction for attempted theft. This is impossibility through inadequacy. The only defence that may work would be if Edward believed that what he was doing was an offence when it was in fact legal. This is known as a Taafe defence, after the case R v Taafe.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Attempt. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
March 01, 2024
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Attempt. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: March 01, 2024).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Attempt. Retrieved March 01, 2024
, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Attempt are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 26th April, 2020 | 0 Views.