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 Alexander Vindman, who worked on European affairs at the National Security Council, was instrumental in the investigation into the president. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "Impeachment witness Alexander Vindman escorted from White House after Trump acquittal, lawyer says," 7 Feb. 2020 His duties were mainly instrumental: taking readings of temperature, atmospheric pressure, and so forth. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "The Fanciful Flamboyance of “The Aeronauts”," 29 Nov. 2019 Welna, according to the nomination letter, was also instrumental in the school securing a $45,000 grant for restorative justice practices. Rubén Rosario, Twin Cities, "Rosario: ‘These kids today?’ OK boomers. Read this.," 16 Nov. 2019 Rhaenys was also instrumental during the fights at Storm's End and the Field of Fire. Ani Bundel, Ars Technica, "House of the Dragon," 5 Nov. 2019 Just as swiftly, Karen’s voice completes the verse, returning with the gentle response to Peluso’s distorted instrumental call, forging an incongruous duet. Longreads, "Why Karen Carpenter Matters," 4 Oct. 2019 Christopher Knight is instrumental in recreating the Brady house’s exterior. Selena Barrientos, House Beautiful, "A Very Brady Renovation," 10 Sep. 2019 Vox’s German Lopez has reported that experts now see that bill, which Biden was instrumental in writing and passing, as one of the major contributors to mass incarceration in the 1990s. Tara Golshan, Vox, "Can Joe Biden ride the Resistance to victory?," 14 Aug. 2019 Jack Greer, once the president of Greer's Markets and a lifelong businessman in the grocery industry, was also instrumental in the founding of Mobile Baykeeper., "New downtown Greer’s called ‘tipping point’ for Mobile," 10 July 2019

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

12 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instrumental.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on instrumental

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with instrumental

Spanish Central: Translation of instrumental

Nglish: Translation of instrumental for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of instrumental for Arabic Speakers

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