9 Grammatical Pitfalls


[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
1350-1400; Middle English < Medieval Latin 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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for instrumental
  • Indeed, the chocolate was no doubt instrumental in keeping your sores from being worse than they otherwise would have been.
  • It is infused with lost tunes, melodies which one hears behind the elaborate instrumental configurations.
  • Satellite data instrumental in combating desertification.
  • instrumental in developing many fundamental elements of the personal and notebook computers.
  • The accompanying instrumental idiom sounded more faceless than anything else.
  • Clicking the mouse is an instrumental touch of the device that purveys an intangible thing through it.
  • The efforts his heirs have made to protect-and share-his extraordinary archive have been instrumental in keeping his name alive.
  • The pesticide, which killed insects that spread typhus and malaria, was almost certainly instrumental in saving millions of lives.
  • All because of the debt ceiling crisis they were unquestionably instrumental for.
  • Perkins has been instrumental in modernizing the ancient weapon.
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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