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the operative word

The word in a statement that is most important in understanding its intended or true meaning. The police released a statement saying they have not yet filed any charges. The operative word being "yet."
See also: operative, word
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

the ˌoperative ˈword

used to emphasize that a particular word or phrase is the most important one in a sentence: I was in love with her — ‘was’ being the operative word.
See also: operative, word
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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