ac·​tu·​ate ˈak-chə-ˌwāt How to pronounce actuate (audio)
actuated; actuating

transitive verb

: to put into mechanical action or motion
The pump is actuated by the windmill.
: to move to action
a decision actuated by greed
actuation noun
Choose the Right Synonym for actuate

move, actuate, drive, impel mean to set or keep in motion.

move is very general and implies no more than the fact of changing position.

moved the furniture

actuate stresses transmission of power so as to work or set in motion.

turbines actuated by waterpower

drive implies imparting forward and continuous motion and often stresses the effect rather than the impetus.

a ship driven aground by hurricane winds

impel is usually figurative and suggests a great motivating impetus.

a candidate impelled by ambition

Examples of actuate in a Sentence

The pump is actuated by the windmill. a light actuated by a motion detector
Recent Examples on the Web The cascading dominoes can also be lightweight, flexible, and actuated by a variety of soft actuators (for example, shape memory alloys, inflatable actuators, bending actuators, etc.), whereas conveyor systems are operated by electric motors. IEEE Spectrum, 7 Mar. 2023 When in alarm mode, the slide must be actuated again to wind the alarm, changing the bell from red to white. Paige Reddinger, Robb Report, 10 Nov. 2023 Other teams favored a physical interface, strapping the operator into hardware (almost like a robotic exoskeleton) that could read their motions and then actuate the limbs of the avatar robot to match, while simultaneously providing force feedback. IEEE Spectrum, 16 Apr. 2023 The feature is actuated when the driver floors the throttle and can be used up to 30 times before the battery is depleted. Drew Dorian, Car and Driver, 29 June 2023 So the action potential is the electrical mechanism by which the nervous signal travels, either to actuate motion at the behest of your intent or to gain sensation and sort of perceive the world around you. IEEE Spectrum, 23 May 2023 He is actuated entirely by vibrations of the human voice. Merrie Monteagudo, San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 May 2023 The delay was caused by a frozen pressurization valve that could not be actuated remotely. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 20 Apr. 2023 In comparison, our cascading dominoes can realize complex paths with both curvature and elevation changes while being actuated by a single actuator. IEEE Spectrum, 7 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'actuate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Medieval Latin āctuātus, past participle of āctuāre "to actualize," verbal derivative of Latin āctus act entry 1

First Known Use

1641, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of actuate was in 1641

Dictionary Entries Near actuate

Cite this Entry

“Actuate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


ac·​tu·​ate ˈak-chə-ˌwāt How to pronounce actuate (audio)
actuated; actuating
: to put into action
the windmill actuates the pump
: to arouse to action
actuated by the hope of winning

More from Merriam-Webster on actuate

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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