1. the process or state of acting or of being active: The machine is not in action now.
  2. something done or performed; act; deed.
  3. an act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity: a crisis that demands action instead of debate; hoping for constructive action by the landlord.
  4. actions, habitual or usual acts; conduct: He is responsible for his actions.
  5. energetic activity: a man of action.
  6. an exertion of power or force: the action of wind upon a ship’s sails.
  7. effect or influence: the action of morphine.
  8. Physiology. a change in organs, tissues, or cells leading to performance of a function, as in muscular contraction.
  9. way or manner of moving: the action of a machine or of a horse.
  10. the mechanism by which something is operated, as that of a gun or a piano.
  11. a military encounter or engagement; battle, skirmish, or the like.
  12. actual engagement in fighting an enemy; military or naval combat: He saw action in Vietnam.
  13. Literature. the main subject or story, as distinguished from an incidental episode.
  14. Theater.
    1. an event or series of events that form part of a dramatic plot: the action of a scene.
    2. one of the three unities.Compare unity(def 8).
  15. the gestures or deportment of an actor or speaker.
  16. Fine Arts. the appearance of animation, movement, or emotion given to figures by their attitude, position, or expression.
  17. Law.
    1. a proceeding instituted by one party against another.
    2. the right of bringing it.
  18. Slang.
    1. interesting or exciting activity, often of an illicit nature: He gave us some tips on where the action was.
    2. gambling or the excitement of gambling: The casino usually offers plenty of action.
    3. money bet in gambling, especially illegally.
  19. Ecclesiastical.
    1. a religious ceremony, especially a Eucharistic service.
    2. the canon of the Mass.
    3. those parts of a service of worship in which the congregation participates.


  1. characterized by brisk or dynamic action: an action car; an action melodrama.


  1. in action,
    1. performing or taking part in a characteristic act: The school baseball team is in action tonight.
    2. working; functioning: His rescuing the child was bravery in action.
  2. out of action, removed from action, as by sudden disability: The star halfback is out of action with a bad knee.
  3. piece of the action, Informal. a share of the proceeds or profits: Cut me in for a piece of the action.
  4. take action,
    1. to start doing something: As soon as we get his decision, we’ll take action.
    2. to start a legal procedure.


  1. the state or process of doing something or being active; operation
  2. something done, such as an act or deed
  3. movement or posture during some physical activity
  4. activity, force, or energya man of action
  5. (usually plural) conduct or behaviour
  6. law
    1. a legal proceeding brought by one party against another, seeking redress of a wrong or recovery of what is due; lawsuit
    2. the right to bring such a proceeding
  7. the operating mechanism, esp in a piano, gun, watch, etc
  8. (of a guitar) the distance between the strings and the fingerboard
  9. (of keyboard instruments) the sensitivity of the keys to touch
  10. the force applied to a bodythe reaction is equal and opposite to the action
  11. the way in which something operates or works
  12. out of action not functioning
  13. physics
    1. a property of a system expressed as twice the mean kinetic energy of the system over a given time interval multiplied by the time interval
    2. the product of work or energy and time, usually expressed in joule secondsPlanck’s constant of action
  14. the events that form the plot of a story, film, play, or other composition
  15. military
    1. a minor engagement
    2. fighting at sea or on landhe saw action in the war
  16. philosophy behaviour which is voluntary and explicable in terms of the agent’s reasons, as contrasted with that which is coerced or determined causally
  17. British short for industrial action
  18. informal the profits of an enterprise or transaction (esp in the phrase a piece of the action)
  19. slang the main activity, esp social activity

verb (tr)

  1. to put into effect; take action concerningmatters decided at the meeting cannot be actioned until the following week


  1. a command given by a film director to indicate that filming is to beginSee also cue 1 (def. 8)

n.mid-14c., “cause or grounds for a lawsuit,” from Anglo-French accioun, Old French accion (12c.) “action, lawsuit, case,” from Latin actionem (nominative actio) “a putting in motion; a performing, doing,” noun of action from past participle stem of agere “to do” (see act (v.)). Sense of “something done, an act, deed” is late 14c. Meaning “fighting” is from c.1600. As a film director’s command, it is attested from 1923. Meaning “excitement” is recorded from 1968. Phrase actions speak louder than words is attested from 1731. n.

  1. The state or process of acting or doing.
  2. A deed.
  3. A change that occurs in the body or in a bodily organ as a result of its functioning.
  4. Exertion of force or power.

In addition to the idioms beginning with action

  • actions speak louder than words
  • also see:

  • all talk and no action
  • piece of the action
  • swing into action
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