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When I was reading a text, I encountered a sentence which contains the verb phrase "act on".

The Internet and smartphone applications are used for distributing hate messages and acting on the users of them.

My Turkish-English dictionary says that the meaning of this verb is to influence.

On the other hand, when I search it on the website www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com, I see that this verb can only be used with things, not people. It is defined as act on/upon something,

Can this verb phrase have the meaning of influencing someone?

Can it be used with anyone?

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    I agree with the Oxford Dictionary: act on can only be used for things. The sentence as it stands does not make sense.
    – JavaLatte
    Feb 9, 2018 at 13:54

1 Answer 1

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Question one: yes. Question two: yes.

Act on has three meanings:

  1. to do something because you have been advised or told to do it
  2. to use (something, such as a feeling or suggestion) as a reason or basis for doing something
  3. to make something happen : to have a particular effect

See the Cambridge Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Fake news acts on my nerves like kids scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. (1)

Hateful tweets are something that Twitter should act on. (3)

Hate messages act on people in a very direct and damaging way. (3)

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  • M-W only lists Def 2: to use (something, such as a feeling or suggestion) as a reason or basis for doing something. Cambridge says: to do something because you have been advised or told to do it: Your meaning 3 here is meaning 6 in M-W, but that's for act, not for act on, and the example sentence is: These medications act on the heart. Both the OP's original and your sample seem awkward. Note, too, that typing "messages act on people" into Google yields zero hits.
    – J.R.
    Feb 9, 2018 at 16:59

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