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

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
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Interactive is the operative word to emphasize here. Andy Meek, BGR, 28 Apr. 2022 But many require maintenance or repair, and a large portion are likely not operative and can be used only for spare parts, say analysts who track Russia’s military. Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 25 Apr. 2022 The Malaga Fest opener, a noirish crime thriller with special services operative Luis Tosar moonlighting for the elite, here trying to dig up the dirt on a young politico. John Hopewell, Variety, 21 Mar. 2022 In an ice rink showdown near the end of the season, Jenny fights a Russian operative wearing ice skates. Alamin Yohannes, EW.com, 11 Feb. 2022 For others, joining a solar co-operative is an option that could open the door for more citizens to the benefits of sun power. University Of Houston Energy Fellows, Forbes, 14 Sep. 2021 But small was the operative word to describe that group of critics: a lawyer here, a professor there. Gilad Edelman, Wired, 2 Mar. 2022 Meanwhile, Germany’s suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is less than meets the eye, since the pipeline was not yet operative. The Editors, National Review, 25 Feb. 2022 But something else Jayapal said is operative -- and critical -- from a broader perspective. Phil Mattingly, CNN, 10 Feb. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Friday interviewed Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancee of Donald Trump Jr. and a GOP operative and fundraiser, behind closed doors. Benjamin Siegel, ABC News, 25 Feb. 2022 Roger Stone, a longtime GOP operative, refused to answer questions Friday under his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY, 19 Dec. 2021 Sergeytsev is an experienced Russian political operative who worked on behalf of the Russian government to prop up pro-Russian Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma in 1991. Susanne Sternthal, The Conversation, 14 Apr. 2022 Freedom for a third American — a former marine who Venezuelan officials insist is a covert American operative — came close to happening but didn’t. Washington Post, 25 Mar. 2022 Infowars and others falsely accused Gilmore of being a government operative, fomenting violence to discredit Trump. Elizabeth Williamson, Rolling Stone, 17 Mar. 2022 The filing did not disclose any other useful details, but Democratic sources noted that the custodian of records, Ashley Stevens, is a Colorado Democratic operative who usually works on the independent expenditure side of campaigns. Daniel Strauss, The New Republic, 8 Mar. 2022 Reed is a political operative from Arkansas and former partner with the Impact Management Group, a political consulting firm. Joseph Flaherty, Arkansas Online, 7 Mar. 2022 Block is a covert operative who freelances for the FBI, specializing in extracting undercover agents who have gotten themselves into dangerous situations. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

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

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Dictionary Entries Near operative

operations research



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Last Updated

2 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Operative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operative. Accessed 25 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for operative


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

More from Merriam-Webster on operative

Nglish: Translation of operative for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of operative for Arabic Speakers


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