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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Anna Wintour prefaced in this video—think being the operative word. Emily Farra, Vogue, "“Everything Is for Everybody”: Anna Wintour Shares Her Top Takeaways From Paris Fashion Week," 4 Oct. 2018 The critically acclaimed drama centers around M16 operative Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "Where to Watch and Stream 'Killing Eve' (Because You Can't on Netflix)," 4 Jan. 2019 Jakob Wernerman, operative head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, told the Associated Press. Umair Irfan, Vox, "In Sweden, Latvia, and Greece, wildfires are spreading amid a brutal heat wave.," 25 July 2018 On Friday, Ginsburg, who is 85, underwent surgery to remove the nodules, both of which proved cancerous upon post-operative testing. Ezra Klein, Vox, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the case for 18-year Supreme Court terms," 26 Dec. 2018 In fact, the game started its life as a co-operative survival game where players had to work together to build shelters and fight off zombie hordes. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "The year in Fortnite," 18 Dec. 2018 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

And as depicted in the trailer, the inimitable Fiona Shaw returns as MI6 operative Carolyn Martens, while Radio Times reports Kim Bodnia is back as Konstantin. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Killing Eve Season 2 Trailer Just Dropped and I Am Weak," 14 Feb. 2019 Fiona Shaw will also rejoin the cast this season as mysterious operative Carolyn. Jennifer Lance, Glamour, "Killing Eve Season 2: Here's Everything We Know So Far," 3 Jan. 2019 Meanwhile, Border Patrol field operatives have been given guidance on a new process that would allow them to directly release families under certain circumstances. Dara Lind, Vox, "Trump administration to release hundreds of immigrant families from detention," 27 Dec. 2018 Netflix’s next big movie is a heist film starring Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac as former military operatives who take their training and use it to attempt a major robbery, where things, naturally, go awry. Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge, "New trailers: True Detective, Once Upon a Deadpool, Godzilla, and more," 15 Dec. 2018 But such operatives, who pursue their clients’ goals through a variety of methods—some entirely aboveboard, others less so—do exist. Ben Widdicombe, Town & Country, "How Much Does It Cost to Keep Your Name Out of the News?," 18 Jan. 2019 Even Republican operatives in Louisiana - while unable to resist a slight dig at their ideological counterparts - applaud the trio. The Washington Post, NOLA.com, "With LaToya Cantrell, black female Democrats will lead Louisiana's 3 largest cities," 6 May 2018 Turner worked on Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign and represents a class of young operatives eager to put their time learning the political nuances of Iowa’s 99 counties to use on politics’ largest stage. Thomas Beaumont, The Seattle Times, "2020 Democratic contenders already eyeing top staff in Iowa," 21 Nov. 2018 The summit came just days after the Justice Department announced the indictments of a dozen Russian intelligence operatives for allegedly hacking Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Alex Pappas, Fox News, "Putin denies having dirt on Trump, calls meddling charge 'utterly ridiculous' in Fox News interview," 2 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about operative

Share operative

Statistics for operative

Last Updated

11 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for operative

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on operative

What made you want to look up operative? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


grandiloquent, ostentatious, or bombastic

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt-painting-a-young-scholar-and-his-tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!