op·​er·​ate | \ ˈä-pə-ˌrāt How to pronounce operate (audio) , ˈä-ˌprāt \
operated; operating

Definition of operate

intransitive verb

1 : to perform a function : exert power or influence factors operating against our success
2 : to produce an appropriate effect the drug operated quickly
3a : 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

transitive verb

2a : 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

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Synonyms for operate


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Examples of operate in a Sentence

They hope to have the windmill operating again tomorrow. The camera also operates underwater. The machine can operate at high speeds. instructions for operating the new microwave oven a license to operate a motor vehicle The café is owned and operated by a young couple. The organization operates a recycling program. It's the only casino operating in the state. The company operates from Chicago. a militant group operating against the government
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Recent Examples on the Web Crimson Ride Shuttles will not operate during the 2020 season. Ben Flanagan | Bflanagan@al.com, al, "Alabama football fan guide to Tide’s home game vs. Kentucky," 20 Nov. 2020 WebTPA, which has more than 500 employees, will operate as an independent company within the GuideWell family of companies. Naseem S. Miller, orlandosentinel.com, "Orlando Health breaks ground on Jewett Orthopedic Hospital," 20 Nov. 2020 Health and fitness centers can only operate at 25 percent occupancy. NBC News, "Covid live updates: CDC warns against Thanksgiving travel as Covid-19 cases spike," 20 Nov. 2020 Restaurants in Southern Indiana can still operate at 75% capacity. Dahlia Ghabour, The Courier-Journal, "Don't 'expect Christmas this year': Restaurant workers reeling from COVID-19 closures," 20 Nov. 2020 The Mobile Meals program will operate while PTS students are learning from home. Post-tribune Staff, chicagotribune.com, "Community news," 20 Nov. 2020 Health and fitness centers can only operate at 25 percent occupancy. NBC news, "This Thanksgiving, many opt for 'a plate at the door and some elbow bumps'," 20 Nov. 2020 Offices and gyms, for example, can operate at 10% capacity. CBS News, "Watch Live: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks about COVID-19 restrictions going into effect today," 20 Nov. 2020 Both will operate at reduced capacity, and the Meadows shuttles will require advance reservations. oregonlive, "COVID-19 will change Oregon’s ski season; here’s how," 19 Nov. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of operate

1588, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for 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 -ate entry 3 — more at opera entry 2

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Time Traveler for operate

Time Traveler

The first known use of operate was in 1588

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Statistics for operate

Last Updated

24 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Operate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operate. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for operate


How to pronounce operate (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of operate

: 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.)


op·​er·​ate | \ ˈä-pə-ˌrāt How to pronounce operate (audio) \
operated; operating

Kids Definition of operate

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 sense 1 They operate a farm.
3 : to perform surgery : do an operation on The doctors operated on the patient.


op·​er·​ate | \ ˈäp-(ə-)ˌrāt How to pronounce operate (audio) \
operated; operating

Medical Definition of operate

intransitive verb

: to perform surgery

transitive verb

: to perform surgery on operated the growth

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