We Have to Act Quickly

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We have to act quickly


We have to do something quickly.

The verb, and noun, “act” has a range of meanings:

Acting and Actors

When we use the word “act” we think of “actors” and acting at the movies or on stage in the theatre but the word “act” has a broad field of meaning.

Theatre and Cinema

Of course we mention actors, directors and cinematographers, when we talk about movies. And we mention actors, directors and props when we discuss the stage. In those contexts we might hear:

He is a great actor.


He played his part well.

which means:

He acted the part very well.

In theatre and on the stage or at the circus there are different types of acts:

a comedy act
a trapeze act
a circus act
a juggling act

Have you ever been to the circus?
Are you a performer?

Cinema and Movies

There are many types of movies. A popular genre in Hollywood is the action movie. Action movies are often big budget productions with a poor story-line and incredible stunts.


Do you like action movies?
Who is your favourite action movie star?
Who is the most popular action movie star in the world?

Act is related to Activity

As well as the idea of acting for cinema and theatre the verb “to act” is connected with the idea of “activity” or “action”:

We have to act quickly or we will not be able to get the price we need.

This is a line from a business conversation. It is about the importance of doing something (acting) before it is too late. Prices go up and products become unavailable so it is necessary to act quickly to get what you want at the price you want before the market situation changes.

Upholding the Law

The police uphold the law by arresting people and stopping them from criminal behaviour. In this context we might hear:

He committed a criminal act.

Or in another context we might hear:

They were arrested for committing a sex act on the beach.

In this sense an act is an action or a movement or an activity of some kind. The word “act” is a noun which is used in a formal legal setting by police officers and lawyers.

Enacting Legislation – Bills and Acts

Legislation means law. It is a non-count noun so we can say “a law” but we cannot say “a legislation”. We say: “a piece of legislation”.

When the government wants to pass a law it is called a bill. First the bill is written, then the parliament (congress) votes on the law. If it is passed, the bill becomes a law and its is called “an act”. It is an act of parliament. Look at these collocations:

an Act of Parliament
the Banking Act
the Social Security Act

Link to the Law Page

Word Family

to act
to enact
an act of parliament

Grammatical Analysis

When we analyse the verbs in different sentences we talk about tense (time) and we compare different types of actions:

Simultaneous Actions

While I was cooking, the phone rang.

Consecutive Actions

I had dinner then I rang my mother.

Completed Actions

I have already seen that movie.

Continuous Actions

I am listening to you.
I am sitting on the train.

When we compare actions we often talk about whether they are long actions or short actions. What is the difference between a long action and a short action? It depends on the context. Look at this example:

While I was cooking the phone rang.

The activity of cooking generally lasts longer than the duration of a phone ringing. For this reason we say:

while I was cooking

The action of cooking is longer than the ringing. But we can also say:

While the phone was ringing, I reached over and unplugged it.

In this case the action of ringing is a longer action, and appears next to the link word “while”, and the action of unplugging the phone is shorter. Much of meaning comes from context.

Volcanic Activity

Volcanoes are generally classified as:


Generalisations are not universally true.

Economic Transactions

In the banking sector we talk about:

bank transactions

Automatic Teller Machines charge a transaction fee.
Running your own business can be a juggling act.

Health and Physical Activity

If you engage in physical activity, your health will improve.

Do you play sport?
Do you get enough exercise?

Active and Passive in Grammar

One of the important distinctions in English grammar, at a higher level, is the distinction between “active” and “passive”.

The police arrested him.
He was arrested by the police.

In Australia people speak English.
English is spoken in Australia.

Learn more about active voice and passive voice in English grammar: Passive Voice


Customers will identify with this product
understanding Grammar
Generalisations are not universally true.
Running your own business can be a juggling act.

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