ac·​ti·​vate | \ ˈak-tə-ˌvāt How to pronounce activate (audio) \
activated; activating

Definition of activate

transitive verb

: to make active or more active: such as
a(1) : to make (something, such as a molecule) reactive or more reactive
(2) : to convert (something, such as a provitamin) into a biologically active derivative
b : to make (a substance) radioactive
c : to treat (a substance, such as carbon or alumina) so as to improve adsorptive properties
d(1) : to set up or formally institute (an organized group, such as a military unit) with the necessary personnel and equipment
(2) : to put (an individual or unit) on active duty

intransitive verb

: to become active

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from activate

activation \ ˌak-​tə-​ˈvā-​shən How to pronounce activation (audio) \ noun
activator \ ˈak-​tə-​ˌvā-​tər How to pronounce activator (audio) \ noun

Examples of activate in a Sentence

Touch the screen to activate the system. activate and then deactivate a mechanism The camera is activated by pushing a button. The bomb was activated by remote control. Sunlight activates a chemical reaction in the plant's leaves. vitamins that activate the growth of new cells The President has activated the reserves.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web To activate the water features at each location, touch the top of the white tube. Dallas News, "Where to find free splash pads, spraygrounds and fountains," 31 July 2020 To activate their defenses against insects, for example, plants might have to shut down another hormone pathway, such as growth or water conservation. Sara Reardon, Scientific American, "Plants Have Hormones, Too, and Tweaking Them Could Improve Food Supply," 30 July 2020 Once your Chase card is linked, click here to activate the $15 off $50 offer. Jennifer Yellin, CNN Underscored, "Get $15 off at Amazon when using your eligible Chase credit card," 30 July 2020 Arizona is already telling its hospitals to activate emergency plans in preparation for a surge in patients. Eliza Mackintosh, CNN, "What you need to know about coronavirus on Wednesday, June 10," 10 June 2020 In an effort to address Mr. Trump's request, Esper and Milley urged the nation's governors that day to activate the National Guard in their states. Stefan Becket, Jordan Freiman, CBS News, "Trump announces he is pulling National Guard from Washington, D.C., after peaceful protests," 7 June 2020 However, copies of the department’s policy provided to 21CP still seemed to leave officers with some discretion on whether to activate their body cameras, the report said. Christian Sheckler, The Indianapolis Star, "South Bend police has no mandatory de-escalation training, but 7 'combat shoots' each year," 9 July 2020 Some of the words the researchers identified that have a high probability to cause Alexa to accidentally activate during their tests include alexiteric, alissa, alosa, alyssa, barranca, elector, electra, elissa, and elixir. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Self-driving cars are returning to work too," 7 July 2020 Values that activate legacy thinking — the desire to leave something positive behind for future generations — are also effective in getting people to see the importance of doing something now for future benefits. Nat Kendall-taylor, STAT, "Why were we so late responding to Covid-19? Blame it on our culture and brains," 6 July 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'activate.' 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 activate

1624, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for activate

active entry 1 + -ate entry 4, probably as adaptation of French activer, going back to Middle French, derivative of actif active entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about activate

Time Traveler for activate

Time Traveler

The first known use of activate was in 1624

See more words from the same year

Statistics for activate

Last Updated

5 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Activate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for activate


How to pronounce activate (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of activate

: to cause (a device) to start working
chemistry : to cause (a chemical reaction or natural process) to begin
chiefly US : to order (soldiers) to serve in a war


ac·​ti·​vate | \ ˈak-tə-ˌvāt How to pronounce activate (audio) \
activated; activating

Kids Definition of activate

: to start working or cause to start working Activate the alarm.
ac·​ti·​vate | \ ˈak-tə-ˌvāt How to pronounce activate (audio) \
activated; activating

Medical Definition of activate

: to make active or more active: as
a : to convert into a biologically active derivative or form activated plasminogen
b : to make biologically or molecularly active activate protein synthesis The [spinal] cord also contains neuronal circuits …that can be activated by incoming sensory signals without input from the brain …— John W. McDonald et al., Scientific American, September 1999
c : to make (a substance) radioactive

Other Words from activate

activation \ ˌak-​tə-​ˈvā-​shən How to pronounce activation (audio) \ noun

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on activate

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

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!