Work on: To attempt to influence or manipulate someone or their emotions in order to achieve a particular result.



1 : to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means

2 : to have an effect on the condition or development of (Merriam Webster)


What is the difference between “influence” and “work on”? Is “work on” more active and forceful than “influence”? Are they interchangeable in the following 2 sentences from the free dictionary?

  1. I'll work on your father and see if I can get him to change his mind.
  2. The film seems to be working on our sense of nostalgia to cover over how thin the plot and characters are.

3 Answers 3


Influence carries connotations of success, where as work on is more suggestive of an intermediate phase or ongoing project. Additionally influence can be used for non-motive actors, such as the influence of the Sun on the moon's orbit around the Earth, where as work on is more specific to personal interactions.

You can fail to influence someone's actions, even if you've tried to work on them.

I have influenced and I have successfully influenced carry the same meaning.
I have worked on and I have successfully worked on carry separate meanings.

I don't know if the second example is a translation, but I'd use the phrase "playing on" rather than "working on" to get across the idea that the film relies on nostalgia rather than its own merits.


An important point that needs to be made is that "work on" specifies intention.

The word "influence" has no concept of intention, it merely states the nature of cause and effect.

The weather influences my behaviour, but there is no suggestion that it intends to do so.


Personally I feel that 'influence' has a much bolder meaning that 'working on'. It can have both positive or negative effects on something, but generally if you are influencing something you are having a large effect on it. 'Working on' something, however, could have a much less intense degree of action. In the case you have stated with 'working on your father', we can see here that this is a positive influence that will be gradual.

  • They are different words meaning different things. "Work on" is the process, "influence" is the result. Jan 14, 2021 at 6:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .