adjective in·stru·men·tal \ ˌin(t)-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl \
|Updated on: 16 Jul 2018

Definition of instrumental

1 a : 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 3
  • instrumental learning
  • instrumental conditioning




play \ˌin(t)-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl-ē\ adverb

Examples of instrumental in a Sentence

  1. They played instrumental music at the wedding.

  2. an instrumental version of a song

Recent Examples of instrumental from the Web

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.

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.

First Known Use of instrumental


in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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INSTRUMENTAL Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of instrumental for English Language Learners

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

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

INSTRUMENTAL Defined for Kids


adjective in·stru·men·tal \ ˌin-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl \

Definition of instrumental for Students

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

Medical Dictionary


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

medical Definition of instrumental

: operant
  • instrumental learning
  • instrumental conditioning

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a downward inclination or slope

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