To assault someone is to threaten him or her with physical harm or unlawful contact. If the person committing the assault carries out the threat, that is an example of a battery. Assault and battery are two separate crimes, but they often occur together, and the alleged perpetrator can then face charges of both.
Not every threatening word or action rises to the level of assault. There are certain requirements that must be present.
The California Penal Code defines assault as an unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury upon the person of another. However, it specifies that the person committing the alleged assault must have the present ability to carry out the attack. If the person making the alleged threat does not have the ability to carry it out, then it would not put a person in reasonable fear of physical harm. Therefore, it is not a true assault.
Threatening words alone may not be sufficient grounds to bring an assault charge. According to Rasmussen College, it is usually necessary to combine them with a physical action of some sort. For example, a person could shout violent threats at someone else while throwing punches or giving them chase. The alleged aggressor does not necessarily have to follow through on the action to have committed assault.
In other words, a person can still commit assault even without catching the person he or she is chasing or by throwing punches that do not land. A completed action would be necessary for a charge of battery but not for a charge of assault.