in·​stru·​men·​tal | \ ˌin(t)-strə-ˈmen-tᵊl How to pronounce instrumental (audio) \

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 How to pronounce instrumentally (audio) \ 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 Defensive backs Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks lead an experienced group that has been instrumental in changing the culture in Berkeley and has helped the program that is having its best stretch in a decade. Rusty Simmons,, "‘Through the roof’: Cal football’s expectations are highest in nearly a decade," 14 Nov. 2020 Estefan believes the prayers of her fans were instrumental in her healing. Erin Jensen, USA TODAY, "'Mayhem': Gloria Estefan remembers the 1990 bus accident that broke her back," 11 Nov. 2020 Under President Barack Obama the department was instrumental in disseminating some $90 billion in clean energy stimulus spending under the Recovery Act in 2009. Ari Natter,, "Ex-Google Official From Stanford Seen as Top Energy Pick," 11 Nov. 2020 Ed Charamut, chairman of the Farm Land Preservation Committee, said Kochanek was instrumental in the town’s initial commitment to open space in 2012 when the town council voted to bond $10 million for the preservation of open space and farmland. Steven Goode,, "Former Rocky Hill Mayor Kochanek dies after battling cancer," 11 Nov. 2020 Madelyn Shank, who was instrumental in creating a historical trail in 1988, is the general narrator and the voice for many stops. Aegis Staff,, "Havre de Grace dedicates marker honoring Marquis de Lafayette’s farewell tour of the U.S.," 10 Nov. 2020 Being able to consult and learn from others within Endeavor was instrumental in making the decision to move ahead with the 2020 pageant, according to Shugart. Hilary Levey Friedman, Glamour, "What It's Really Like to Run for Miss USA During a Pandemic," 9 Nov. 2020 That's when Swain met Joyce Linnabary, who was instrumental in helping Swain launch her own business. Randy Tucker, The Enquirer, "Grandparents showed Stephanie Swain how to give back, help out," 8 Nov. 2020 During his four terms in Congress, Kettner was instrumental in promoting the city to the nation and bringing Naval bases and federal money to San Diego. San Diego Union-Tribune, "From the Archives: San Diego County’s representation in Congress," 6 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for instrumental

Time Traveler

The first known use of instrumental was in 1616

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Statistics for instrumental

Last Updated

20 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instrumental.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for instrumental


How to pronounce instrumental (audio)

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 How to pronounce instrumental (audio) \

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 How to pronounce instrumental (audio) \

Medical Definition of instrumental

: operant instrumental learning instrumental conditioning

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