op·​er·​a·​tive | \ˈä-p(ə-)rə-tiv, 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

a : artisan, mechanic

b : a secret agent

c : private investigator

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


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.


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

Closer to home In ordering that He's work be shut down, Chinese authorities indicate that these standards are operative there. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Scientists, ethicists slam decisions behind gene-edited twins," 30 Nov. 2018 Neglecting to perform a pre-operative physical examination and a medical history should also be cause for concern, Pazmiño said. Daniel Chang, miamiherald, "State charges Brazilian butt lift doctor with malpractice — two years after patient died | Miami Herald," 23 May 2018 In the post-campaign forum hosted by Google, Matt Oczkowski, the head of product for Cambridge - and the operative Parscale was initially looking to poach - said the Trump campaign did not embrace the psychographic techniques the company used. Maeve Reston, CNN, "Inside the Trump campaign's ties with Cambridge Analytica," 21 Mar. 2018 The most common non-operative treatment is bracing. Dr. Carolyn Kienstra And Dr. Alicia Morrisson, miamiherald, "Scoliosis a common condition that could require medical care," 12 June 2018 Profuse post-operative bleeding forced the doctor to perform another procedure that did not fix the damage, prosecutors said. Fox News, "New York doctor pleads guilty in fatal abortion," 8 May 2018 Profuse post-operative bleeding forced the doctor to perform another procedure that did not fix the damage, prosecutors said. Crimesider Staff, CBS News, "New York doctor pleads guilty in woman's botched abortion death," 7 May 2018 Worker representation on boards is one suggestion; a move towards employee-owned or co-operative-style firms is another. The Economist, "Does inequality cause suicide, drug abuse and mental illness?," 14 June 2018 Profuse post-operative bleeding forced the doctor to perform another procedure that did not fix the damage, prosecutors said. Fox News, "New York doctor pleads guilty in fatal abortion," 8 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The group now known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula launched its first major attack on Americans in October 2000, when its operatives bombed the USS Cole while the destroyer was berthed in Yemen’s Aden harbor. Mike Pompeo, WSJ, "The U.S.-Saudi Partnership Is Vital," 27 Nov. 2018 That’s cause for concern, according to a half-dozen GOP officials, operatives and commentators familiar with the race, most of whom spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of the contest. Brian Slodysko, The Seattle Times, "GOP frets about prospects for picking up Indiana Senate seat," 18 Sep. 2018 The investment bankers, public relations operatives and media executives working on deals could go back to their corners. New York Times, "AT&T-Time Warner Ruling Has Dealmakers Bracing," 10 June 2018 Reporters, political operatives, and members of Congress tend to see politics as a game in which all’s fair. Bloomberg.com, "Elliott Broidy and the GOP’s Bad Hacking Karma," 4 May 2018 Caroline Wiles, the daughter of a Florida political operative and lobbyist, worked in the White House as a deputy assistant to the president, but was moved to the PPO and made special assistant to the president, according to the Post. Kathryn Watson, CBS News, "Report: Office responsible for vetting Trump appointees plagued by personnel problems," 30 Mar. 2018 Nadar participated in meetings between Trump associates, Russian operatives and members of the UAE. Jeff Darcy, cleveland.com, "Trump targets FBI as it targets terrorst: Darcy cartoon," 20 Mar. 2018 He was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by a team of operatives dispatched by Riyadh. Samuel Rubenfeld, WSJ, "Lawmakers Seek Tougher U.S. Sanctions Over Khashoggi Killing," 15 Nov. 2018 Chinese operatives allegedly poisoned the technical supply chain of major US companies, including Apple and Amazon by planting a microchip on their servers manufactured abroad, according to a Bloomberg report today. Ashley Carman, The Verge, "Chinese spy chips would be a ‘god-mode’ hack, experts say," 4 Oct. 2018

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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Statistics for operative

Last Updated

16 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for operative

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

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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)

: 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, ˈäp-ə-ˌrāt- \

Medical Definition of operative 

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

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