op·​er·​ate | \ˈä-pə-ˌrāt, 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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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

Our armed forces need to be more capable of operating independently against even a substantial adversary, because that is what a truly sovereign nation must be prepared to do. Tony Abbott, WSJ, "An Ally Sizes Up Donald Trump," 13 July 2018 Driving Michigan would prohibit consuming marijuana while operating any vehicle, aircraft, snowmobile, off-road RV or motorboat, as well as consuming in the passenger area of vehicles. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, "How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law," 12 July 2018 Both capture the critical tension of operating a successful technology business today. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Data Sheet—AT&T Risking HBO Franchise With Corporate Pressure," 10 July 2018 In December, Santa Monica filed criminal charges against Bird for operating without a business license and for violating other regulations. NBC News, "The next Uber? Scooter startups flood U.S. cities as funding pours in," 9 July 2018 Rogers was charged with reckless endangerment, interfering with an officer, engaging police in pursuit and operating a motor vehicle under suspension. Ruth Bruno, courant.com, "State Police Arrest Two After Chasing Stolen Car," 6 July 2018 Adam Ball, 31, of Louisville, was arrested Wednesday and is charged with evading arrest, auto theft and operating a vehicle with expired plates and an invalid license, according to Metro Corrections. Thomas Novelly, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville police arrest suspect after SWAT standoff in Taylor Berry," 28 June 2018 This commonality makes the districts look like vehicles for broad delegation of municipal powers to private parties essentially operating as shadow governments. BostonGlobe.com, "Should Massachusetts allow cities and towns to create Community Benefit Districts?," 13 July 2018 MeerKAT will operate independently before being incorporated into SKA 1 sometime around 2023, Adam said. Wendell Roelf, The Christian Science Monitor, "South Africa's MeerKAT telescope will help uncover next space frontier," 13 July 2018

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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Statistics for operate

Last Updated

9 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for operate

The first known use of operate was in 1588

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More Definitions for operate



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 \
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 \
operated; operating

Medical Definition of operate 

intransitive verb

: to perform surgery

transitive verb

: to perform surgery on operated the growth

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Comments on operate

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a private place of worship

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