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work on someone
1. . Lit. [for a physician] to treat someone; [for a surgeon] to operate on someone. The doctor is still working on your uncle. There is no news yet. They are still working on the accident victims.
2. . Fig. [for someone] to try to convince someone of something. I'll work on her, and I am sure she will agree. They worked on Max for quite a while, but he still didn't agree to testify.
3. Fig. [for something, such as medication] to have the desired effect on someone. This medicine just doesn't work on me. Your good advice doesn't seem to work on Sam.
work on something
to repair, build, or adjust something. The carpenter worked on the fence for three hours. Bill is out working on his car engine.
work (up)on something
1. . to repair or tinker with something. (Upon is formal and less commonly used than on.) He's out in the kitchen, working upon his tax forms. He's working on his car.
2. . [for something] to have the desired effect on something. (Upon is formal and less commonly used than on.) This medicine should work well upon your cold. I hope it will work on your cold.
Also, work upon. Exercise influence on, as in If you work on him, he might change his mind, or She always worked upon their feelings by pretending to be more ill than she really was . [Early 1600s]
1. To exert oneself physically or mentally in order to do, make, or accomplish something: The author is working on a new set of short stories.
2. To practice something in order to acquire or polish a skill: You need to work on your handwriting.
3. To effect a desired result on something: The medicine works on coughs. This joke never fails to work on him.
4. To exert an influence on someone: Her friends worked on her to join the group.