[ op-er-uh-tiv, op-ruh-tiv, op-uh-rey-tiv ]
/ ˈɒp ər ə tɪv, ˈɒp rə tɪv, ˈɒp əˌreɪ tɪv /
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See synonyms for: operative / operatives / operativeness on Thesaurus.com

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Origin of operative

1590–1600; <Middle French operatif<Latin operāt(us) (see operate) + Middle French -if-ive


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does operative mean?

An operative is a person who is employed in or is skilled in a certain branch of work.

Operative is generally used to mean a worker, but in some industries, an operative is specifically a representative or a manager.

In the fields of espionage and tactics, an operative is almost always a spy or agent working secretly for an organization.

Operative also means detective when used in reference to the police force or private investigation teams.

As an adjective, operative often means exerting power or influence. Something that is operative is binding or in effect, such as operative laws or an operative organization that establishes rules.

In medicine, operative describes something related to a surgical operation. Operative pain, for example, is pain that occurs from having an operation.

Example: A public relations operative informed us that there is an emerging crisis.

Where does operative come from?

The first records of the term operative come from around the 1590s. It ultimately comes from the Latin operātus. 

You might also hear operative used to mean “key” or “central,” especially as in the context of literature or grammar. In this case, something operative is required or unavoidable for the completion or accomplishment of something. In grammar, an operative word is one that gives the sentence its specific meaning or emphasizes the main point.

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What are some other forms related to operative?

  • operatively (adverb)
  • operativeness (noun)
  • interoperative (adjective, noun)
  • nonoperative (adjective)
  • inoperative (adjective)

What are some synonyms for operative?

What are some words that share a root or word element with operative

What are some words that often get used in discussing operative?

How is operative used in real life?

Operative is a common word with several meanings.

Try using operative!

Is operative used correctly in the following sentence?

The operative word in the stirring directions is ‘continuously,’ otherwise the mixture will burn.

How to use operative in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for operative

/ (ˈɒpərətɪv) /

in force, effect, or operation
exerting force or influence
producing a desired effect; significantthe operative word
of or relating to a surgical procedure
a worker, esp one with a special skill
US a private detective

Derived forms of operative

operatively, adverboperativeness or operativity, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012