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 Worryingly, some 60 percent of homes in Texas get their heat from electricity, rather than heat pumps which can operate when the lights go out. Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, "Conservatives Are Seriously Accusing Wind Turbines of Killing People in the Texas Blackouts," 16 Feb. 2021 Franchises in low-income neighborhoods cost more to operate, have higher employee turnover and are not as profitable, the lawsuit said. Mark Gillispie, ajc, "Black franchise owner sues McDonald's, cites persistent bias," 16 Feb. 2021 Though there have been a dozen landing attempts on Mars, the United States remains the only country to land and operate a spacecraft on the Martian surface. Anchorage Daily News, "NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, aims for dicey landing to search for ancient life," 16 Feb. 2021 It is made up of soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania who operate in cooperation with French troops. Sylvie Corbet And Sam Mednick, Star Tribune, "France, West Africa step up counterterrorism efforts," 16 Feb. 2021 Yet, Dipasquale said Southwest had expected to operate full flights Monday. Randy Diamond, San Antonio Express-News, "Unable to clear snow, San Antonio International cancels flights through Tuesday," 15 Feb. 2021 In the area of pollution discharges and storm water fees, most permits to operate municipal storm water systems would increase by 27%. Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, "Whitmer budget proposes no tax hikes, but calls for fee increases totaling $27.6 million," 15 Feb. 2021 Chessman says judges in the district operate in different ways. Victoria Bekiempis, Wired, "How Covid Gums Up the Court System," 15 Feb. 2021 Energy Trust doesn’t offer incentives on new refrigerators and freezers, but models with the blue Energy Star label use about 10% less energy, last longer and operate more quietly than standard models. oregonlive, "Efficient appliances with cash rebates are on sale for Presidents Day: Save now and forever, says Energy Trust of Oregon," 15 Feb. 2021

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

22 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Operate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operate. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

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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 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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