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 His younger brother Raul Carmona, 61, died in April, leaving modest savings, a city worker pension and a lease on a co-operative apartment. Donald Moore, Bloomberg.com, "Without a Will, Covid Victims’ Families Face Legal Nightmares," 6 Oct. 2020 As a result of court orders, the October 5, 2020 target date is not operative, and data collection operations will continue through October 31, 2020. Paul Gattis | Pgattis@al.com, al, "Census update: Deadline confirmed as Oct. 31 as Alabama remains last in response," 3 Oct. 2020 Those silent post-operative days created a window of self-reflection. Lars Brandle, Billboard, "Miley Cyrus Says Vocal Surgery Got Her Sober," 3 Sep. 2020 No one wants the aftermath to result in negative news about artists coming down with COVID-19, so caution is the operative word. Tom Roland, Billboard, "Nashville's Bluebird Cafe Becomes Awards-Show Venue as ACM Adjusts to COVID-19," 15 Sep. 2020 This is not to say that co-operative enterprises like this would have to be religious in nature or motivation. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "The Case for Private Education Co-operatives," 9 Sep. 2020 Joining Bond on his latest adventure is Dr. Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), his love interest from 2015’s Spectre, as well as newcomer Paloma (Ana de Armas), an operative Bond recruits in Santiago. Eric Todisco, PEOPLE.com, "Daniel Craig Suits Up as James Bond in Thrilling New No Time to Die Trailer," 3 Sep. 2020 And people will treat that as a must have, even when distance learning is no longer operative. Heather Kelly, Washington Post, "Khan Academy’s Sal Khan shares advice for online learning: Do less, and turn off the camera," 31 Aug. 2020 When dealing with out-of-town guests during a pandemic, safety becomes the operative word. Brooke Henderson, Fortune, "How to update your guests about your pandemic wedding plans," 29 Aug. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Greene, who campaigns with a sort of aggro cheerfulness, has linked Hillary Clinton to pedophilia and human sacrifice and suggested that Barack Obama plotted to kill a Democratic operative with the help of MS-13. Charles Bethea, The New Yorker, "How the “QAnon Candidate” Marjorie Taylor Greene Reached the Doorstep of Congress," 9 Oct. 2020 However, intelligence agencies tipped off police and an undercover operative was able to infiltrate the gang and ultimately thwart their preparations before any attack took place. Chronicle News Services, SFChronicle.com, "News of the Day From Around the World," 8 Oct. 2020 The city is represented in the case by the firm of Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert, as well as New Orleans attorney and political operative Ike Spears. John Simerman, NOLA.com, "LaToya Cantrell's administration asks judge to toss suit over $35 million traffic-ticket debt," 2 Oct. 2020 The committees also spoke with one foreign national about ties to the Obama administration, an operative with the Democratic National Committee and Blue Star. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, "Senate Republicans release controversial report on Hunter Biden and Ukraine," 23 Sep. 2020 The case of Caputo, a Trump loyalist and former New York political operative, has become the latest distraction for a White House still struggling to define its coronavirus response. Author: Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar, Richard Lardner, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump aide apologizes for Facebook video slamming federal coronavirus scientists," 15 Sep. 2020 The decision to call a plebiscite on Mexico’s former presidents comes as AMLO himself was forced on the defensive last month after videos surfaced showing his brother taking cash from an operative who later became a government official. Lorena Rios, Bloomberg.com, "AMLO Wants Referendum on Probing Ex-Leaders as Midterm Looms," 15 Sep. 2020 Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the home of lobbyist, conspiracy theorist and right-wing operative Jack Burkman early Monday morning. Rachel Weiner, Washington Post, "FBI raids home of conservative conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman," 14 Sep. 2020 Craig Varoga, a longtime Democratic operative who runs Patriot Majority USA, which funded the Indiana project, told reporters that the fraud claims were false. Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, "How President Trump’s false claim of voter fraud is being used to disenfranchise Americans.," 30 Sep. 2020

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

16 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Operative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/operative. Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for operative


How to pronounce operative (audio)

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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