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 Park Place employs more than 1,700 people and operates 18 full-service luxury car dealerships. Dom Difurio, Dallas News, "Park Place Dealerships expanding with acquisition of Aston Martin Dallas," 21 May 2020 Because that future likely involves operating in a lower price environment than before the pandemic arrived. Dan K. Eberhart For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Oil exec: It would be a mistake for the US government to bail us out," 21 May 2020 Cole’s Chop House limited the number of reservations during its first dinner service, said co-owner Eric Keffer, who operates the business with his wife Heather. Justin Phillips, SFChronicle.com, "Restaurants in Napa, San Benito counties reopen with new coronavirus challenges," 20 May 2020 Crowe has a staff of 70 employees and operates in seven markets, including Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. NBC News, "'The face of hunger looks different': A company fighting food waste adapts to the pandemic," 20 May 2020 Shops, hairdressers and nail salons are also taking customers again, and schools are operating on abbreviated schedules. Jack Ewing, New York Times, "An Audience Comes Out of Lockdown for Schubert and Mahler," 20 May 2020 The Southwest Workers Union stopped operating as a union several years ago. Elaine Ayala, ExpressNews.com, "Ayala: Southwest Workers may not be a union anymore but still has a strikers’ fund," 19 May 2020 But officials, now operating in a world where social distancing has become the norm and where hand sanitizer, gloves and masks are no longer considered extras but essentials, acknowledge that the pandemic will change the old ways of doing business. Lori Aratani, Washington Post, "Temperature scans, self-serve kiosks, less human contact key in return of air travel," 19 May 2020 Reservations should be made over the phone or online, as only select Enterprise locations are operating during the coronavirus pandemic. Cailey Rizzo, Travel + Leisure, "Car Rental Companies Step up Their Cleaning Protocols Ahead of Summer Travel (Video)," 18 May 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 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Operate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operate. Accessed 2 Jun. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on operate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for operate

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with operate

Spanish Central: Translation of operate

Nglish: Translation of operate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of operate for Arabic Speakers

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