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[in-struh-men-tl] /ˌɪn strəˈmɛn tl/
serving or acting as an instrument or means; useful; helpful.
performed on or written for a musical instrument or instruments:
instrumental music.
of or relating to an instrument or tool.
  1. (in certain inflected languages, as Old English and Russian) noting or pertaining to a case having as its distinctive function the indication of means or agency, as Old English beseah blīthe andweitan “looked with a happy countenance.”.
  2. noting the affix or other element characteristic of this case, or a word containing such an element.
  3. similar to such a case form in function or meaning, as the Latin instrumental ablative, gladiō, “by means of a sword.”.
  4. (in case grammar) pertaining to the semantic role of a noun phrase that indicates the inanimate, nonvolitional, immediate cause of the action expressed by a verb, as the rock in The rock broke the window or in I broke the window with the rock.
  1. the instrumental case.
  2. a word in the instrumental case.
  3. a construction of similar meaning.
a musical composition played by an instrument or a group of instruments.
Compare vocal (def 8).
Origin of instrumental
First recorded in 1350-1400; Middle English word from Medieval Latin word instrūmentālis. See instrument, -al1
Related forms
instrumentally, adverb
noninstrumental, adjective
noninstrumentally, adverb
uninstrumental, adjective
uninstrumentally, adverb
1. implemental, effectual, effective. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for instrumental
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The trade with England depends on the peace which we have been instrumental in preserving.

    The Last Voyage Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey
  • But whether or not any of these leaders was instrumental in his awakening is now unknown.

    Hymns and Hymnwriters of Denmark Jens Christian Aaberg
  • After this, hypnosis can be instrumental in achieving the final goal.

  • They hate me now because I have been instrumental in thwarting them.

    Kilgorman Talbot Baines Reed
  • If she were innocent, then she must be in trouble, and he hoped to be instrumental in relieving her.

    Frank Merriwell's Bravery Burt L. Standish
British Dictionary definitions for instrumental


serving as a means or influence; helpful
of, relating to, or characterized by an instrument or instruments
played by or composed for musical instruments
(grammar) denoting a case of nouns, etc, in certain inflected languages, indicating the instrument used in performing an action, usually translated into English using the prepositions with or by means of
a piece of music composed for instruments rather than for voices
  1. the instrumental case
  2. a word or speech element in the instrumental case
Derived Forms
instrumentality, noun
instrumentally, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for instrumental

late 14c., "of the nature of an instrument," from Old French instrumental, from Medieval Latin instrumentalis, from Latin instrumentum (see instrument). Meaning "serviceable, useful" is from c.1600. Of music, c.1500; noun meaning "musical composition for instruments only" is attested by 1940. Related: Instrumentally; instrumentality.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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