op·​er·​a·​tive | \ ˈä-p(ə-)rə-tiv How to pronounce operative (audio) , ˈä-pə-ˌrā- \

Definition of operative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : producing an appropriate effect : efficacious operative techniques
b : most significant or essential the operative word in a phrase the operative facts
2 : exerting force or influence : operating an operative statute
3a : having to do with physical operations (as of machines) operative skills
b : working an operative craftsman
4 : based on or consisting of an operation operative dentistry The disease may require operative treatment.



Definition of operative (Entry 2 of 2)

: operator: such as
b : a secret agent
d : a person who works toward achieving the objectives of a larger interest political operatives

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Other Words from operative


operatively adverb
operativeness noun

Examples of operative in a Sentence

Adjective The factory must pass inspection before it becomes operative. The telephone system is now fully operative. If I go, I will bring a salad. “If,” however, is the operative word, since I am not sure that I can go. Noun CIA operatives take terrible risks to find out the secrets of foreign countries. set in the 1930s, the novel is about a washed-out operative working for a third-rate detective agency
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective No one wants the aftermath to result in negative news about artists coming down with COVID-19, so caution is the operative word. Tom Roland, Billboard, "Nashville's Bluebird Cafe Becomes Awards-Show Venue as ACM Adjusts to COVID-19," 15 Sep. 2020 This is not to say that co-operative enterprises like this would have to be religious in nature or motivation. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "The Case for Private Education Co-operatives," 9 Sep. 2020 Joining Bond on his latest adventure is Dr. Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), his love interest from 2015’s Spectre, as well as newcomer Paloma (Ana de Armas), an operative Bond recruits in Santiago. Eric Todisco, PEOPLE.com, "Daniel Craig Suits Up as James Bond in Thrilling New No Time to Die Trailer," 3 Sep. 2020 And people will treat that as a must have, even when distance learning is no longer operative. Heather Kelly, Washington Post, "Khan Academy’s Sal Khan shares advice for online learning: Do less, and turn off the camera," 31 Aug. 2020 When dealing with out-of-town guests during a pandemic, safety becomes the operative word. Brooke Henderson, Fortune, "How to update your guests about your pandemic wedding plans," 29 Aug. 2020 Kellyanne Conway worked for years as a Republican pollster and operative and originally supported Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway to leave White House," 24 Aug. 2020 Kellyanne Conway worked for years as a Republican pollster and operative and originally supported Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary. Jonathan Lemire, Houston Chronicle, "Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway to leave White House," 24 Aug. 2020 Kellyanne Conway worked for years as a Republican pollster and operative and originally supported Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway to leave White House," 24 Aug. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Several current and former officials said the recent controversies regarding the longtime political operative threatened public trust in the public relations campaign. Anchorage Daily News, "Trump health official taking medical leave after calling on president’s supporters to prepare for insurrection," 16 Sep. 2020 But Caputo, a Trump loyalist and former New York political operative, has become a significant new problem for a White House that has struggled all year with its coronavirus response. Star Tribune, "Apology, no firing: Official said US scientists hurt Trump," 15 Sep. 2020 Several characters from the previous games return in this new adventure: CIA operative Alex Mason, Master Sergeant Frank Woods and CIA agent Jason Hudson. Mike Snider, USA TODAY, "Video game superpower 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' embraces its history and returns to Cold War in newest episode," 26 Aug. 2020 The other two, Alexander Zaporozhsky, who was an operative in Russia's foreign intelligence service, sentenced in 2003 to eighteen years of hard labor. CBS News, "Former CIA senior Clandestine Services Officer Daniel Hoffman on pursuing the "Russian ten"," 26 Aug. 2020 If Page had been a CIA operative during meetings with Russians — meetings that the FBI had sworn to the court showed Page was a traitorous spy — then the FBI would have some serious explaining to do. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, "Clinesmith’s Guilty Plea: The Perfect Snapshot of Crossfire Hurricane Duplicity," 24 Aug. 2020 Burke and his two co-defendants — longtime 14th Ward political operative Peter J. Andrews and real estate developer Charles Cui — are currently scheduled to go to trial sometime in mid-2021. Jason Meisner, chicagotribune.com, "Lawyers for indicted Ald. Edward Burke say feds bungled wiretaps, call post office scheme a set-up," 20 Aug. 2020 This brought political clout, and John Fang veered into politics, often working through political operative Jack Davis, who ran both of Willie Brown’s San Francisco mayoral bids. Sam Whiting, SFChronicle.com, "James Fang, former BART director and member of powerful publishing family, dies at 58," 16 Aug. 2020 Hawkfish’s experienced political operative Mitch Stewart explains how Hawkfish hopes to make a difference in 2020. Steven Levy, Wired, "How Bloomberg's Digital Army Is Still Fighting for Democrats," 7 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'operative.' 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 operative


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1810, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for operative


Middle English operatif "active, working," borrowed from Late Latin operātīvus, from operātus, past participle of operārī "to work, be efficacious" + Latin -īvus -ive — more at operate


derivative of operative entry 1

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Time Traveler for operative

Time Traveler

The first known use of operative was in the 15th century

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Statistics for operative

Last Updated

22 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Operative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operative. Accessed 26 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for operative


How to pronounce operative (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of operative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: ready for use : capable of being used
: most important



English Language Learners Definition of operative (Entry 2 of 2)

chiefly US : a person who does secret work for a government or political organization
: a person who does work that involves using tools, operating machinery, etc.


op·​er·​a·​tive | \ ˈäp-(ə-)rət-iv How to pronounce operative (audio) , ˈäp-ə-ˌrāt- How to pronounce operative (audio) \

Medical Definition of operative

: of, relating to, involving, or resulting from an operation operative treatment operative mortality rates

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