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work on (someone or something)
1. To put forth the effort toward creating, completing, or achieving something. Usually used in the continuous tense. I've been working on a new play that deals directly with the trauma from my childhood. Samantha is working on her Ph.D. at the moment.
2. To be in the process of repairing, adjusting, or refurbishing something. I've got two more cars to work on before I'll be able to have a look at yours. Daniel's been working on the dishwasher for the last two hours.
3. To be effective in treating something. I've got two more cars to work on before I'll be able to have a look at yours. Daniel's been working on the dishwasher for the last two hours.
4. To be effective in countering, defeating, or dealing with someone or something. I'm not saying it isn't real, but hypnotism has never worked on me. I heard pepper spray works on bears, so I always carry some with me when I go camping in the mountains.
5. To be able to operate or function correctly on something. No, the computer's too old for that software to work on it. I'm afraid tap-to-pay doesn't work on my phone.
6. To attempt to influence or manipulate someone or their emotions in order to achieve a particular result. I'll work on your father and see if I can get him to change his mind. The film seems to be working on our sense of nostalgia to cover over how thin the plot and characters are.
7. To practice some action or skill in order to improve or master it. Your range of motion is really quite good, but you need to work on keeping your posture steady throughout the maneuver. I'm taking a course to help me work on my French before we take our trip next summer.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.