1 of 2


op·​er·​a·​tive ˈä-p(ə-)rə-tiv How to pronounce operative (audio) ˈä-pə-ˌrā- How to pronounce operative (audio)
: producing an appropriate effect : efficacious
operative techniques
: most significant or essential
the operative word in a phrase
the operative facts
: exerting force or influence : operating
an operative statute
: having to do with physical operations (as of machines)
operative skills
: working
an operative craftsman
: based on or consisting of an operation
operative dentistry
The disease may require operative treatment.
operatively adverb
operativeness noun


2 of 2


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

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
As surgeons, women are less likely to receive referrals, work on high-complexity cases, and have less operative time. Deborah Balthazar, STAT, 30 Aug. 2023 Novi schools: The school district is asking voters to approve an operative millage for 11 years and renew the school district’s operating millage for public recreation and playgrounds. Mika Travis, Detroit Free Press, 8 Aug. 2023 The 371 wouldn’t focus as much on the victimization of people as on the victimization of the process or Congress, but the operative facts and the narrative would have a lot in common. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 25 July 2023 Borges also gave $15,000 to political operative Tyler Fehrman for insider intel on the effort to block the $1.3 billion nuclear bailout. Jessie Balmert, The Enquirer, 30 June 2023 The actions for each affected company will be implemented by the new interim COO and CSO in collaboration with each operative group CEO and management teams. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 13 June 2023 The operative word being try, because so far this postseason home teams have tried and mostly come up short. Joseph Hoyt, Dallas News, 1 May 2023 Fast was one of the operative words for the Seahawks where Hall was concerned. Mark Inabinett | Minabinett@al.com, al, 29 Apr. 2023 Finally, the French Canadians may give us a small window in the long term demographic patterns and genetic dynamics which might be operative on a nearby ethnic group: the Puritans of New England. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 24 Jan. 2011
Western security officials have said that Russia has significant spying capabilities despite the exposure of multiple operatives in Europe. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, 15 Sep. 2023 Wiles, a top Republican operative in Florida, was the head of DeSantis’s transition team in late 2018. Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey, Anchorage Daily News, 14 Sep. 2023 Some Republicans at the time and today assessed that voters viewed the impeachment probe as overreach, too politicized -- a risk the operatives who spoke with ABC News saw in the inquiry announced Tuesday. Tal Axelrod, ABC News, 14 Sep. 2023 Prigozhin leveraged his wealth, talent for spin, and Kremlin connections to transform the Wagner Group into a mythical band of shadowy special forces operatives who were capable of anything. Time, 25 Aug. 2023 Marbach’s in-state defenders included Ohio Republican politicians and operatives. cleveland, 22 Aug. 2023 The Treasury Department identified the sanctioned operatives as Alexey Alexandrovich Alexandrov, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, Ivan Vladimirovich Osipov and Vladimir Alexandrovich Panyaev. Stefan Becket, CBS News, 17 Aug. 2023 Set in Ireland and based on the novel by Roy Jacobson, the film tells the story of a former MI5 operative who must activate old skills to protect his family. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 5 Sep. 2023 Washington reprises the role of Robert McCall for a third — and possibly the last — time as a retired government operative who uses his deadly skills to help those who are vulnerable and innocent get justice. Arturo Conde, NBC News, 1 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'operative.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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

First Known Use


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


circa 1810, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near operative

Cite this Entry

“Operative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operative. Accessed 23 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
op·​er·​a·​tive ˈäp-(ə-)rət-iv How to pronounce operative (audio)
: producing a normal or desired effect
: being in operation


2 of 2 noun
: a secret agent : spy

Medical Definition


op·​er·​a·​tive ˈäp-(ə-)rət-iv How to pronounce operative (audio) ˈäp-ə-ˌrāt- How to pronounce operative (audio)
: of, relating to, involving, or resulting from an operation
operative treatment
operative mortality rates

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