ac·tion | \ˈak-shən \
plural actions

Definition of action 

1a : a thing done : deed

b : the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition

c actions plural : behavior, conduct unscrupulous actions

d : initiative, enterprise a man of action

2 : an act of will an emergency requiring action

3 : the bringing about of an alteration by force or through a natural agency the action of water on rocks

4 : the manner or method of performing:

a : an actor's or speaker's deportment or expression by means of attitude, voice, and gesture An actor's words and actions should agree.

b : the style of movement of the feet and legs (as of a horse)

c : a function of the body or one of its parts

5 : the initiating of a proceeding in a court of justice by which one demands or enforces one's right also : the proceeding itself

6a(1) : an engagement between troops or ships

(2) : combat in war gallantry in action

b(1) : an event or series of events forming a literary composition Most of the play's action takes place in a courtroom.

(2) : the unfolding of the events of a drama or work of fiction : plot As the action unfolds, we learn more about the hero's family.

(3) : the movement of incidents in a plot a movie that is two hours of nonstop action

c : the combination of circumstances that constitute the subject matter of a painting or sculpture

7a : an operating mechanism

b : the manner in which a mechanism or instrument operates a drill's twisting action

8a : the price movement and trading volume of a commodity, security, or market

b : the process of betting including the offering and acceptance of a bet and determination of a winner

c : financial gain or an opportunity for financial gain a piece of the action

9 : sexual activity

10 : the most vigorous, productive, or exciting activity in a particular field, area, or group wants to be where the action is

11 used as a director's command to start filming part of a movie or television show Lights, camera, action!

12 : spin or rotation given to a ball or puck by throwing or hitting it in a particular way If I am hitting into the wind on the 7th at Pebble Beach, … rather than taking an eight or a nine [iron] and hitting it hard, I'll choose a little eight or even a seven and almost chip the ball, putting as little action on it as possible so it lands softly and doesn't do a lot of spinning.— Jack Nicklaus

Keep scrolling for more

Examples of action in a Sentence

He was critical of the government's actions before the war. a military action against another country She tried to explain her actions. I accept full responsibility for my actions. The situation demanded immediate action. The problem may require military action. The school took disciplinary action against the drunken students. They decided that no further action was necessary.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

At the blockbuster plenary sessions, the chairs stretched so far back that even the most youthful Silicon Valley college dropouts-turned VC hoovers had to squint to see the action up in front. Aarian Marshall, WIRED, "Home From the Honeymoon, the Self-Driving Car Industry Faces Reality," 13 July 2018 Terrance Williams and free-agent signing Allen Hurns are the early leaders to see the most action, but the unit likely will need other players to emerge. Michael Middlehurst-schwartz, USA TODAY, "Cowboys training camp questions: Who steps up at receiver for Dak Prescott?," 12 July 2018 Both saw action in the NBA last season and made their summer debuts on Friday. Staff Report,, "UConn Players Seeking Summer Success In Las Vegas," 8 July 2018 While referees have tried to crack down in recent years on players aggressively demanding action from them, the VAR requests surprisingly don’t seem to bother them. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, "Soccer’s New Favorite Pantomime," 6 July 2018 Yet their domestic politics are pushing them to demand ever tougher action, even as asylum applications and border crossings fall. The Economist, "Europe is moving towards the tough immigration policies of Sebastian Kurz," 5 July 2018 Though police say there’s no evidence the cases are related, several community members participated in a march to demand action. Britni Danielle,, "Chicago Police Are Asking For Help to Find Yet Another Missing Teen Girl," 3 July 2018 The Pride return to action at 7 p.m. on Saturday against the Utah Royals (5-5-6, 21 points) at Rio Tinto Stadium. Jordan Culver, Pro Soccer USA, "Orlando Pride have sense of urgency going into match against Utah Royals," 13 July 2018 While both playwright and director would be wise to carve out a bit of breathing room in the action, if only to help audiences navigate several currently incomprehensible plot turns, the evening's furious precision is a technical feat. Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader, "Adventures of Spirit Force Five," 12 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'action.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of action

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 5

History and Etymology for action

Middle English accioun, borrowed from Anglo-French accion, borrowed from Latin āctiōn-, āctiō "activity, act, legal process," from agere "to drive (cattle), cause to move, do" + -tiōn-, -tiō, noun suffix of verbal action — more at agent

Latin actio legal proceeding, from agere to do, carry out, initiate legal proceedings

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about action

Statistics for action

Last Updated

4 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for action

The first known use of action was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for action


ac·tion | \ˈak-shən \

Kids Definition of action

1 : the process by which something produces a change in another thing the action of acid on metal

2 : the doing of something Action is needed on this problem.

3 : something done The mayor's first action was to call a meeting.

4 : the way something runs or works the toy car's spinning action

5 : combat in war


ac·tion | \ˈak-shən \

Medical Definition of action 

1 : the process of exerting a force or bringing about an effect that results from the inherent capacity of an agent protein synthesis is an expression of gene action insecticidal action

2 : a function or the performance of a function of the body (as defecation) or of one of its parts the normal baby has three or four actions of the bowel in 24 hours— Morris Fishbein heart action

3 : an act of will

4 actions plural : behavior aggressive actions



Legal Definition of action 

1a : a judicial proceeding for the enforcement or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense — compare special proceeding at proceeding

b : the right to bring or maintain such a legal or judicial proceeding

2 : an act or decision by an executive or legislative body of a government (as an administrative agency) or of an organization (as a Board of Directors) the power of courts to invalidate statutes and executive actions— R. H. Bork

3 : a voluntary act of will that manifests itself externally : a mode of conduct

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on action

What made you want to look up action? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not any or not one

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!