verb (used without object), op·er·at·ed, op·er·at·ing.

  1. to work, perform, or function, as a machine does: This engine does not operate properly.
  2. to work or use a machine, apparatus, or the like.
  3. to act effectively; produce an effect; exert force or influence (often followed by on or upon): Their propaganda is beginning to operate on the minds of the people.
  4. to perform some process of work or treatment.
  5. Surgery. to perform a surgical procedure.
  6. (of a drug) to produce the effect intended.
  7. Military.
    1. to carry on operations in war.
    2. to give orders and accomplish military acts, as distinguished from doing staff work.
  8. to carry on transactions in securities, or some commodity, especially speculatively or on a large scale.
  9. Informal. to use devious means for one’s own gain; insinuate oneself; finagle: a man who knows how to operate with the ladies.

verb (used with object), op·er·at·ed, op·er·at·ing.

  1. to manage or use (a machine, device, etc.): to operate a switchboard.
  2. to put or keep (a factory, industrial system, ranch, etc.) working or in operation: to operate a coal mine.
  3. to bring about, effect, or produce, as by action or the exertion of force or influence.


  1. to function or cause to function
  2. (tr) to control the functioning ofoperate a machine
  3. to manage, direct, run, or pursue (a business, system, etc)
  4. (intr) to perform a surgical operation (upon a person or animal)
  5. (intr) to produce a desired or intended effect
  6. (tr usually foll by on) to treat or process in a particular or specific way
  7. (intr) to conduct military or naval operations
  8. (intr) to deal in securities on a stock exchange

v.c.1600, “to be in effect,” back-formation from operation, or else from Latin operatus, past participle of operari “to work, labor, toil, take pains” (in Late Latin “to have effect, be active, cause”). Surgical sense is first attested 1799. Meaning “to work machinery” is from 1864 in American English. Related: Operated; operating. Operating system in the computer sense is from 1961. v.

  1. To perform surgery.

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