Instrumental Case
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Instrumental Case

In grammar, the instrumental case (abbreviated INS or INSTR) is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action. The noun may be either a physical object or an abstract concept.

General discussion

The instrumental case appears in this Russian sentence:








(the) letter



with (a) quill pen.

? ? .

Ya napisal pis'mo perom.

I wrote {(the) letter} {with (a) quill pen.}

Here, the inflection of the noun indicates its instrumental role – the nominative ? changes its ending to become .

Modern English expresses the instrumental meaning by use of adverbial phrases that begin with the words with, by, or using then followed by the noun indicating the instrument:

I wrote the note with a pen.
I wrote the note (by) using a pen.

Technical descriptions often use the phrase "by means of", which is similar to "by use of", as in:

I wrote the note by means of a pen.
I wrote the note by use of a pen.

This can be replaced by "via", which is a Latin ablative of the nominative (vi?) via, meaning road, route, or way. In the ablative this means by way of.

The instrumental case appears in Old English, Old Saxon, Georgian, Armenian, Basque, Sanskrit, and the Balto-Slavic languages. An instrumental/comitative case is arguably present in Turkish as well as in Tamil. Also, Uralic languages reuse the adessive case where available, locative case if not, to mark the same category, or comitative case (Estonian). For example, the Finnish kirjoitan kynällä does not mean "I write on a pen", but "I write using a pen", even if the adessive -llä is used. In Ob-Ugric languages, the same category may also mark agents with verbs that use an ergative alignment, like "I give you, using a pen".

The instrumental case is notably used in Russian, where the case is called (tvoritel'nyj pade?) though similar usages also can be found in other Balto-Slavic languages. In most declension paradigms, the instrumental case in Russian can generally be distinguished by the - ("-om") suffix for most masculine and neuter nouns, the -/-o? ("-oju"/"-oj") suffix for most feminine nouns and - ("-ami") for any of the three genders in the plural.

Just as in English the preposition "with" can express instrumental ("using, by means of"), comitative ("in the company of"), and a number of other semantic relations, the instrumental case in Russian is not limited to its instrumental thematic role. It is also used to denote:

  • the agent in a passive voice construction. E.g.: " " ("The book was written by Mark Twain"). Here, " " ("by Mark Twain") is "? ?" ("Mark Twain") in the instrumental case.
  • a predicate with infinitive, future tense, imperative, conditional and gerund of the verbs "?" and "" (both meaning 'to be') (for example, "? ? ? ", " ? " translate as "I want to be a doctor" and "don't be a coward", with the nouns in the instrumental case).
  • a predicate with a number of other verbs, denoting state, appearance, manner, consideration, etc.
  • parts of the day, seasons of the year, and some other temporal relations. For example, the sentence "? ? " (ja rabotaju utrom) means "I work in the morning". The word ? (utro, "morning") in its instrumental case denotes the time in which the action (in the case of this example, "working") takes place ("in the morning").
  • similarity. For example, the phrases "? ," "? ," " ?" (to howl like a wolf, to die like a hero, to fly like an arrow) use nouns in the instrumental case.
  • location, when used with prepositions "behind", "in front of", "under", "above", "next to", and "between"

The Russian instrumental case is also used with verbs of use and control (to own, to manage, to abuse, to rule, to possess, etc.), attitude (to be proud of, to threaten (with), to value, to be interested (in), to admire, to be obsessed (with), etc.), reciprocal action (to share, to exchange), and some other verbs.

Though the instrumental case does not exist in many languages, some languages use other cases to denote the means, or instrument, of an action. In Classical Greek, for example, the dative case is used as the instrumental case. This can be seen in the sentence ".. ? ?," or " ktenei dolôi" (Book IX, line 407 of the Odyssey), which means "he kills me with a bait". Here, "?," the dative of "" ("dolos" - a bait) is used as the instrumental case (the means or instrument here is, obviously, the bait). In Latin the instrumental case has merged with the ablative, thus the ablative case has the same functions. For example, ipso facto can be translated as "by the fact itself", while ocul?s vid?re means "to see with one's eyes".

In Modern English, the word why is one instance of an etymologically instrumental declension. Though not commonly known to be of pronominal origin, it was, in fact, inherited from Old English hw?, which was the declension of hwæt (now what) in the Old English instrumental case – a grammatical feature rare even in Old English. The modern instrumental case (as present in why) does not bear the meaning of instrument, but of purpose, cause, or reason: rather, the closely related form how is used to express instrument, way, or means.

Indo-European languages


The instrumental case in Classical Sanskrit can have several meanings:[1]

  • It can indicate the instrument (of an action):






? ?

R?mo lekhany? likhati.

"R?ma writes with a pen."

  • It can be used to indicate someone or something accompanying an action. In this case, the sense of "company" is indicated by postpositions like saha ("with") (may be optionally omitted):






D?sena saha devadatto'gacchat.

"Devadatta went accompanied by the servant."

  • It can indicate the agent of a passive verb:




Devadattena yava? kh?dyate.

"Barley is eaten by Devadatta."

  • It can indicate the cause, reason or circumstance of an action. In this case, it can be translated as "because of", "out of", etc.:






du?khena gr?mam atyajat.

"He abandoned the village out of misery."

  • It is used with the preposition ? vin? ("without"):








? ? ?

jalena vin? padma? na?yati.

"A lotus dies without water."

  • It can also be used with the particles ? alam k?tam, both meaning "enough".





k?ta? kol?halena.

"Enough with noise."


In Standard Assamese (?) (e)re indicates the instrumental case. (?) (e)di does the job in some dialects.







simie kolomere likhe.

"Simi writes with pens/a-pen."






ami habire goi asü.

"We are going through a forest."





batitü matire bonüa.

"The bowl is made of soil."

Ancient Greek

The functions of the Proto-Indo-European instrumental case were taken over by the dative, so that the Greek dative has functions belonging to the Proto-Indo-European dative, instrumental, and locative.[2] This is the case with the bare dative, and the dative with the preposition sýn "with". It is possible, however, that Mycenean Greek had the instrumental case, which was later replaced by dative in all the Greek dialects.[3]


While Old High German possessed a rudimentary instrumental case, its function was replaced with the dative in Middle High German, comparable with English and Ancient Greek, with a construction of "mit" (with) + dative clause (in English, the objective case is used). For example:

"Hans schrieb mit einem Stifte*."
(John [nominative] wrote with a [dative] pencil [dative].)

*the German dative -e is not used in most common conversation; it is only used here for a better demonstration.

  • ein = a, nominative case masculine/neuter -> einem = a, dative case masculine/neuter
  • (der) Stift = (the) pencil, masculine, nominative
  • (dem) Stifte = (the) pencil, masculine, dative


Just as above, the object with which the action is done or completed is declined. For example:

  • Pí?u perem.
    • psát = to write; pí?u = I write
    • pero = a pen -> perem = with a pen
  • Jedu do ?koly autobusem.
    • jet = to go via transport (× jít = to go on foot); jedu = I go (using any kind of vehicle)
    • ?kola = school, do ?koly = to school (genitive)
    • autobus = a bus -> autobusem = by bus


The instrumental in Armenian is denoted by the - (-ov) suffix to say that an action is done by, with or through an agent.

  • (matit, pencil) -> (matitov, with/by a pencil)
    • ? ? (matitov grir) Write with a pencil.

While the instrumental case is the form most commonly used for this purpose, when coupled with the passive voice in Armenian the instrumental case can be replaced with the ablative case.


Use of instrumental case without or with "sa".

Instrumental in the Serbo-Croatian language group is usually used to denote a noun with which the action is done, e.g. "Idem autom" - "I'm going by means of a car", "Jedem vilicom/vilju?kom" - "I eat with a fork", "Prenosi se zrakom/vazduhom" - "It's transferred through air", "Pro?eta je bijesom" - "She's consumed by anger". The instrumental preposition "s(a)", meaning "with", is supposed to be dropped in this usage, but it is often kept in casual speech when talking about objects in usage such as a pen, a hammer, etc.

Instrumental can also denote company, in which case "s(a)" is mandatory, e.g. "Pri?ali smo sa svima" - "We talked with everyone", "Do?ao je s roditeljima" - "He came with his parents", "?etala se sa psom" - "She was taking a walk with her dog". Dropping "s(a)" in this case would either make the sentences incorrect, or change their meaning entirely because dative, locative and instrumental share the same form in the plural, so the examples "Pri?ali smo svima" i "Do?ao je roditeljima" would come to mean "We told everyone" and "He came to his parents".

Instrumental is also used with certain spatial prepositions like "me?u" (between), "nad" (above), "pod" (underneath), "pred" (in front of) and "za" (after). Note the difference between these prepositions and similar ones used for genitive with an -i suffix: "izme?u", "iznad", "ispod", "ispred" and "iza".

Instrumental is used without proposition to denote travelling through an area: "Putujem zemljom" - "I'm travelling the country", "Hodam pla?om" - "I'm walking along a beach", etc.

It can also be used to show how long or when in a larger scope of time something happened: "Nema ih godinama" - "They haven't come in years", "S vremenom ?e pro?i" - "It will pass in time", "Jednom tjednom" - "Once a week", etc.

Baltic - Latvian

The instrumental case in Latvian declension (One of the three Baltic languages that also include Lithuanian, and Old Prussian and can have several meanings:

  • It can indicate the instrument (of an action):
Vi raksta ar spalvu
"He writes with a pen".
  • It can be used to indicate someone or something accompanying an action. In this case, :
Vi?a dzied?ja ar meitu
"She sang with a girl".



The instrumental case is present in the Hungarian language, where it serves several purposes. The main purpose is the same as the above, i.e. the means with which an action occurs. It has a role in the -(t)at- causative form of verbs, that is, the form of a verb that shows the subject caused someone else to action the verb. In this sense, the instrumental case is used to mark the person that was caused to execute the action expressed by the verb. It is also used to quantify or qualify words such as 'better' or 'ago', such as sokkal jobban 'much better' (literally 'with-much better'); hét évvel ezel?tt 'seven years ago' (literally 'seven with-years before this').

In Hungarian the instrumental and comitative case look the same, see Instrumental-comitative case.

See the links section below for a more detailed article.


Finnish has a historic, marginal instructive case (-n), but in practice the adessive case (-lla/-llä) is used instead outside lexicalised fixed expressions, even though the adessive literally means 'on top', e.g. vasaralla 'using a hammer' (instrumental meaning) or 'on a hammer' (locative meaning). (Vasaroin 'using hammers' is plausible and understandable, but not common in use.)



Nahuatl uses the suffix -tica to indicate the instrumental case. For example, in the sentence ?tl?n ?caltica in hu?llahqueh 'they came on the water by boat', ?calli means 'boat' and ?caltica means 'by (use of a) boat'.



Turkish uses the conjunction ile ("with"), and its suffixed form -(y)lA (realised as -(y)la or -(y)le, depending on the dominant vowel of the noun--see vowel harmony) to indicate the instrumental case. For example, in the sentence Arabayla geldi 'he came by (the use of a) car', araba means 'car' and arabayla means 'by (the use of a) car, with a car'.

The original Proto-Turkic instrumental case suffix was -n, which is less productive today but is preserved in common words like yaz?n ("during the summer"), kn ("during the winter"), ö?len ("at noon"), and yayan ("by foot", "on foot"). It became less productive in most Oghuz Turkic languages. The conjunction ile ("with") in Turkish has semantically expanded to fill the gap (kürek ile or kürekle, meaning "with the shovel" > "using the shovel"), being used as an instrumental marker, and the suffix -(y)lA (-le, -la, -yle, -yla) is a form of ile which has been grammaticalized into an agglutinative suffix as a result of quick speech, becoming an enclitic.


In Japanese, the post-positional particle ? de indicates the instrumental case.







katana-de teki-wo kiru.

katana-INSTR foe-DO slay.PRES

'(I) slay (my) foe with a katana.'

Northeast Caucasian


The instrumental in the North Caucasian language Vainakhish is denoted by the - / - / - (-tsa / -atsa / -itsa) suffix to describes an action which is done with an agent:




with (a) quill pen


(the) letter





Asa Bahamitsa Kekhatt yazzdir.

"I {with (a) quill pen} {(the) letter} wrote.

The nominative Baham changes its ending to become Bahamitsa:

  • = pen -> = with a pen
    • ? (bahamitsa yazzdir) Wrote with a pen.


  1. ^ DESHPANDE, Madhav; "Samskrita-Subodhini", 2007. Michigan Papers on South and Southwest Asia, No. 47. CENTERS FOR SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST ASIAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. ISBN 0-89148-079-X.
  2. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek Grammar. par. 1279: composite or mixed cases.
  3. ^ Andrew Garett, "Convergence in the formation of Indo-European subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology", in Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, ed. Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research), 2006, p. 140, citing Ivo Hajnal, Studien zum mykenischen Kasussystem. Berlin, 1995, with the proviso that "the Mycenaean case system is still controversial in part".

External links

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