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

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 But by promoting Reirden rather than hiring from outside, there’s still someone who was instrumental to the postseason run. Katherine Fominykh,, "Five things to know about Todd Reirden, the next Capitals head coach," 30 June 2018 Sane was instrumental to Manchester City's record-breaking success under Pep Guardiola in the 2017/18, helping the club to a Premier League and Carabao Cup double., "Rio Ferdinand Tweeted Leroy Sane After Germany's Embarrassing FIFA World Cup Exit," 28 June 2018 The goal was to get the city to recognize that investment in education, employment, housing, mental health, nutrition, and art could be more instrumental to the prosperity of the city’s citizens than investment in law enforcement. Matt Harvey, Chicago Reader, "Chicagoans / Poetry / Race South-side poet Kwynology wants people to fall back in love with Chicago at her open mike," 25 June 2018 Special Agent Bill Elflein: Private First Class Richard was instrumental to this investigation. CBS News, "Catfishing relationship between strangers leads to the murder of an innocent Marine," 19 June 2018 Your dedication and service to our country has been instrumental to the success of President Trump's administration. Robert O'harrow Jr., Anchorage Daily News, "Promoted six times and then fired: A 24-year-old political appointee's wild ride in Trump's Washington," 15 June 2018 Pressamarita's friend and client Bill Palifka, a Special Engineer in the U.S. Army, was instrumental to this exhibition. Courant Community, "Community News For The West Hartford Edition," 8 May 2018 Kathy Kieliszewski and Brian Kaufman, and their vision for the documentaries, were instrumental to the project. Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press, "2 Free Press video staffers part of Pulitzer-winning border wall project," 16 Apr. 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

27 Aug 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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