verb op·er·ate \ ˈä-pə-ˌrāt , ˈä-ˌprāt \
|Updated on: 20 Jul 2018

Definition of operate

operated; operating
1 : to perform a function : exert power or influence
  • factors operating against our success
2 : to produce an appropriate effect
  • the drug operated quickly
3 a : to perform an operation or a series of operations
  • The refinery is planning to begin operating as soon as possible.
b : to perform surgery
  • The surgeon has been operating all morning.
c : to carry on a military or naval action or mission
  • The army will operate in conjunction with the air force.
4 : to follow a course of conduct that is often irregular
  • crooked gamblers operating in the club
2 a : to cause to function : work
  • operate an automobile
b : to put or keep in operation
  • operated a grocery store
3 : to perform an operation on; especially : to perform surgery usually used with on
  • operate on a patient
  • operating on a brain tumor

Examples of operate in a Sentence

  1. They hope to have the windmill operating again tomorrow.

  2. The camera also operates underwater.

  3. The machine can operate at high speeds.

  4. instructions for operating the new microwave oven

  5. a license to operate a motor vehicle

  6. The café is owned and operated by a young couple.

  7. The organization operates a recycling program.

  8. It's the only casino operating in the state.

  9. The company operates from Chicago.

  10. a militant group operating against the government

Recent Examples of operate from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of operate

borrowed from Late Latin operātus, past participle of operārī "to work, be efficacious, effect, produce," going back to Latin, "to busy oneself, be at work," probably back-formation from operātus "busy, engaged, occupied with religious observances," from opera "activity, effort" + -ātus 3-ate — more at 2opera

OPERATE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of operate for English Language Learners

  • : to function or behave in a proper or particular way

  • : to use and control (something)

  • : to have control of (something, such as a business, department, program, etc.)

OPERATE Defined for Kids


verb op·er·ate \ ˈä-pə-ˌrāt \

Definition of operate for Students

operated; operating
1 : to work or cause to work in a proper or particular way
  • The machine is operating smoothly.
  • He will learn to operate a car.
2 : manage 1
  • They operate a farm.
3 : to perform surgery : do an operation on
  • The doctors operated on the patient.

Medical Dictionary


verb op·er·ate \ ˈäp-(ə-)ˌrāt \

medical Definition of operate

operated; operating
: to perform surgery
: to perform surgery on
  • operated the growth

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


in proportion

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Test Your Emoji Exceptionalism

  • test-your-emoji-exceptionalism-written-with-a-lot-of-emoji
  • What is this emoji intended to represent: 🤳
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!