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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Fuel cells typically use the energy stored in chemical bonds to make electricity; MacFarlane's operates in reverse. Robert F. Service, Science | AAAS, "Ammonia—a renewable fuel made from sun, air, and water—could power the globe without carbon," 12 July 2018 The position technically operates out of AAA’s New Jersey call center, but individuals who complete the introductory program can then work virtually anywhere they please. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "AAA Club Alliance Is Hiring Work-From-Home Positions With Full Benefits," 11 July 2018 Windy City Carnival Games and Rides will operate all four days. Ginger Brashinger, Daily Southtown, "Proud American Days to close out July with food, fun and entertainment," 11 July 2018 The 31-year-old was originally pulled over by police in his Maserati late Thursday night for reportedly failing to signal during a lane change and operating a vehicle without license plates. Michael Saponara, Billboard, "Mozzy Arrested for Gun Possession in Las Vegas: Report," 9 July 2018 Since September 2017, the Department of Recreation & Parks has operated the museum, building and grounds. Lisa Peklo, Howard County Times, "Trinity School remembers Sister Catherine Phelps," 6 July 2018 Marshal operates exclusively in that format, appealing to the Nigerian expat community. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Acclaimed master of Nigerian fuji music King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal comes to Square Roots Festival," 5 July 2018 Beartooth Basin Beartooth Pass, Montana Beartooth Basin doesn’t even operate in winter. Megan Michelson, Outside Online, "How to Ski All Summer Long," 5 July 2018 My interior design firm, Pembrooke & Ives, was operating at full tilt on projects around the world. Zander Abranowicz, ELLE Decor, "A Modern Take on Greek Island Living in Serifos," 2 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about operate

Phrases Related to operate

operating room

operating table

operating theatre

Statistics for operate

Last Updated

14 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for operate

The first known use of operate was in 1588

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on operate

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


occurring twice a year or every two years

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!