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

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web During the past month, some stores in Shanghai have been allowed to operate in a limited capacity. Natasha Khan, WSJ, 15 May 2022 But there's another obstacle in the pipeline that leaders need to think about addressing upstream: funding health care startups that operate in underserved populations. Anne Sraders, Fortune, 11 May 2022 The missile-firing submarines were designed to operate in the Arctic under pack ice. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, 9 May 2022 Crucially, some corporations that until the start of the invasion were willing to sacrifice principles to operate in a lawless kleptocracy have made their break with Putin. Alexandra Wrage, Forbes, 5 May 2022 PistenBullys are snow groomers, which were specifically designed to operate in Antarctic conditions. Lilit Marcus, Cnn; Video By Max Burnell, CNN, 5 May 2022 Strategic partnerships will also play a role as each cannot operate in silos; partnering with banks, micro credit lenders, and insurance companies will be key aspects of long-term success. Alexander Onukwue, Quartz, 5 May 2022 Practically every president and athletic director pleaded for patience, explaining college sports operate in a unique biosphere, some of it unregulated, some of it highly regulated by federal legislation mandating gender equity. Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 Apr. 2022 But some in Memphis and West Tennessee, those like Bolton who often operate in the air, recognize and applaud Morant’s vertical capabilities. New York Times, 15 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

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The first known use of operate was in 1588

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Last Updated

17 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Operate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operate. Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for operate


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

More from Merriam-Webster on operate

Nglish: Translation of operate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of operate for Arabic Speakers


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