in·​stru·​men·​tal | \ˌin(t)-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl \

Definition of instrumental 

1a : serving as a crucial means, agent, or tool was instrumental in organizing the strike

b : of, relating to, or done with an instrument or tool

2 : relating to, composed for, or performed on a musical instrument

3 : of, relating to, or being a grammatical case or form expressing means or agency

4 : of or relating to instrumentalism

5 : operant sense 3 instrumental learning instrumental conditioning

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Other Words from instrumental

instrumental noun
instrumentally \ ˌin(t)-​strə-​ˈmen-​tᵊl-​ē \ adverb

Did You Know?

An instrument is a tool, something used to construct. It's often a tool for making music. A musical saw happens to be a carpenter's tool that can be played with a violin bow (though you probably wouldn't want to play a wrench or a pair of pliers). The musical meanings of instrumental, as in "It starts with an instrumental piece" or "a jazz instrumental", are common. But the meanings "helpful", "useful", and "essential", as in "He was instrumental in getting my book published", are just as common.

Examples of instrumental in a Sentence

They played instrumental music at the wedding. an instrumental version of a song

Recent Examples on the Web

One of my first such adventures, taken with an aging cowboy named Hosea, was instrumental in setting the tone for the rest of my trek through RDR II’s story. Daniel Starkey, Ars Technica, "Red Dead Redemption II review: Getting muddy in the wide-open frontier," 25 Oct. 2018 Burke has been instrumental in making accessible and adaptive fashion a much more prominent part of the larger conversation. Michaela Dosamantes, Glamour, "6 Women Who Are Shaping the Future of Fashion," 23 Oct. 2018 The former Oregon State star was an instrumental part of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win. Ryan Gaydos, Fox News, "Super Bowl champion arrested after kidnapping woman and holding her against her will, police say," 10 July 2018 Curry's husband, Stephen, was an instrumental part of the Warriors' win over the Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, ending the Rockets' season in heartbreak. Matt Wyatt, Houston Chronicle, "Rockets fans hit Ayesha Curry’s Houston restaurant with one-star Yelp reviews before it opens," 20 June 2018 Jorginho was one of Serie A's outstanding performers last campaign, playing an instrumental part it an unlikely Napoli title challenge, eventually losing out to the ever-dominant Juventus., "Man City Reach 'Verbal Agreement' With Jorginho as Transfer Fee Negotiations Continue With Napoli," 14 June 2018 Allen has been an instrumental part of the Gators’ 21-12 season, averaging 11 points and five rebounds per game. Chris Hays,, "KeVaughn Allen to miss Gators practice due to death of family friend," 17 Mar. 2018 Isabella Weems Lambert Co-founder, Origami Owl 22 years old Isabella has been an instrumental part of Origami Owl, creating custom jewelry, since starting the company at 14. Grace Palmieri, azcentral, "Who's Next: 25 designers influencing Arizona from fashion to graphic design," 16 Mar. 2018 And there’s significant evidence that white Americans’ anxiety about such change was instrumental to Trump’s rise. Eric Leivtz, Daily Intelligencer, "For Democrats, Immigration Is a Political Problem Without a Policy Solution," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'instrumental.' 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 instrumental

1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for instrumental

Last Updated

19 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for instrumental

The first known use of instrumental was in 1616

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More Definitions for instrumental



English Language Learners Definition of instrumental

: very important in helping or causing something to happen or be done

music : written for or performed on musical instruments : not including singing


in·​stru·​men·​tal | \ˌin-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl \

Kids Definition of instrumental

1 : acting to get something done He was instrumental in organizing the club.

2 : relating to or done with an instrument instrumental navigation

3 : played on an instrument rather than sung instrumental music


in·​stru·​men·​tal | \ˌin(t)-strə-ˈment-ᵊl \

Medical Definition of instrumental 

: operant instrumental learning instrumental conditioning

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