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 Those are the operative words in the previous sentence. Los Angeles Times, "Latinx Files: Will Joe Biden’s immigration reform plan pass?," 21 Jan. 2021 Needless to say, if the rules Democrats applied to Brett Kavanaugh were still operative — a mere accusation, if even vaguely plausible, and sometimes not even that, is enough to sink someone — Cuomo would be gone yesterday. The Editors, National Review, "A Whole New Dimension to Andrew Cuomo’s Disgrace," 11 Mar. 2021 But, as of next week, whether Trump should be removed from office will no longer be an operative question. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, "The Trial of Donald Trump Must Tell the Full Story of the Capitol Insurrection," 15 Jan. 2021 His radio show and Instagram-famous Republican-operative daughter won’t hurt, either. Caroline Spivack, Curbed, "Here’s Everyone Running for New York City Mayor (So Far)," 4 Jan. 2021 The rezoning of the Senior Co-operative Living Project. Brandi Addison, Dallas News, "See what new construction projects are in your Allen neighborhood: hotel, dog park or tea shop?," 2 Dec. 2020 Only 12% could correctly name them in a Co-operative Congressional Election Study from Harvard in 2018. The Economist, "If a Democratic wave breaks over state elections, its effects will be lasting," 31 Oct. 2020 Fun is the operative word in Such A Fun Age, Kiley Reid’s delectably discomfiting debut. Chloe Schama, Vogue, "The Best Books Vogue Editors Read in 2020," 24 Dec. 2020 That number will be operative Dec. 21-23 and 28-30 and Jan. 4-8. Lee Roop | Lroop@al.com, al, "Huntsville schools: Social Security numbers at risk in ransomware attack," 21 Dec. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Gregg Keller, a Republican operative in Missouri, said that theory of the case is true — up to a point. David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, "Republicans vying for Missouri Senate seat jockey for Trump endorsement," 1 Apr. 2021 The young political operative borrowed a boat from George H.W. Bush, then the chairman of the RNC, to take her out on the Potomac River for their first date. Washington Post, "Sally Atwater, wife of GOP strategist Lee Atwater, dies at 69," 10 Mar. 2021 Other notable names on the list included Paul Erickson, the former boyfriend of the Russian operative Maria Butina. refinery29.com, "Who Did Trump Pardon On His Last Day In Office? Not Who You’d Think," 20 Jan. 2021 Back in the suburbs of New Jersey, Richard Murphy, flush with $175,000, made a plan to disperse some of the cash to a fellow Russian operative in New York City. CBS News, "Russian spies living among us: Inside the FBI's "Operation Ghost Stories"," 13 Oct. 2020 Frank Artiles, the Republican political operative suspected of secretly arranging a sham candidate to run in a key 2020 state senate race, surrendered to a Miami-Dade County jail on Thursday to face felony campaign finance charges. Samantha J. Gross, sun-sentinel.com, "Former senator Artiles paid no-party candidate more than $40K, arrest warrant charges," 18 Mar. 2021 One political operative told me it’s possible for a white male candidate with deep pockets to make it to the general election in November, perhaps by painting himself as a centrist with business community support. BostonGlobe.com, "Is it a foregone conclusion that Boston’s next mayor won’t be a white male?," 7 Feb. 2021 Nikki Haley hired a heavy-hitter political operative to run her new political action committee, another signal the former ambassador is eyeing a potential 2024 presidential bid. David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, "Nikki Haley expands political operation with hiring of experienced operative," 3 Feb. 2021 Danielle Cendejas, a veteran political operative, said California has more clout in Washington now with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is from the state, in the Biden administration. Aaron Navarro, CBS News, "Recall threats are common in California. But the latest one against Gavin Newsom might get further than most," 1 Feb. 2021

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

27 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Operative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operative. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for operative



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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