To actuate is to put into motion. The "act" in actuate can remind you of this word's meaning — to put into action. A lever might actuate a pump, or malice might actuate a crime.

Coming to us from the Latin word actus, which means "to act," actuate's meaning is simpler than it sounds — it just means to set in motion or activate some kind of motion. Think of one of those complex Rube Goldberg mouse traps; you know, the one where the boot kicks the ball that drops on the plank that tips over the ladder which rings a bell that cracks an egg that knocks over the cage onto the unsuspecting mouse. The boot actuates the whole shebang.

Definitions of actuate

v put in motion or move to act

actuate the circuits”
activate, set off, spark, spark off, touch off, trigger, trigger off, trip
Type of:
initiate, pioneer
take the lead or initiative in; participate in the development of

v give an incentive for action

incite, motivate, move, prompt, propel
affect, impress, move, strike
have an emotional or cognitive impact upon
arouse sympathy or compassion in
Type of:
cause, do, make
give rise to; cause to happen or occur, not always intentionally

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