Source: (Page number unprinted), Chapter 2, Acing Your First Year of Law School ..., by Shana Connell Noyes, Henry S. Noyes

Delair v. McAdoo, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Nov 23 1936.
[Author:] KEPHART, Chief Justice.

... Any ordinary individual, whether a car owner or not, knows that when a tire is worn through to the fabric, its further use is dangerous and it should be removed. When worn through several plies, it is very dangerous for further use. All drivers must be held to a knowledge of these facts. An owner or operator cannot escape simply because he says he does not know. He must know. The hazard is too great to permit cars in this condition to be on the highway. It does not require opinion evidence to demonstrate that a trigger pulled on a loaded gun makes the gun a dangerous instrument when pointed at an individual, nor could one escape liability by saying he did not know it was dangerous. The use of a tire worn through to the fabric presents a similar situation. The rule must be rigid if millions are to drive these instrumentalities which in a fraction of a second may become instruments of destruction to life and property. There is no series of accidents more destructive or more terrifying in the use of automobiles than those which come from "blow-outs."

Hereafter, I singularise the bold nouns above, because I ask about their differences in general.
1. What would change if I reversed instrumentality with instrument above?

2. What of using only instrumentality twice?

3. What of using only instrument twice?

  • 2
    It's just an example of the clunky language which results from a lawyer trying to write like a journalist. It's best to leave it aside and move on.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 28, 2014 at 13:21
  • Like a bad journalist. "dangerous for further use"?
    – TimR
    Nov 28, 2014 at 13:24
  • I think the usage is defensible. The cars are instrumentalities (defined by OED's sense 2 with pl. That which serves or is employed for some purpose or end; a means, an agency) with the explicitly-acknowledged "purpose or end" of getting people from place to place. Using two different word forms highlights the contrast between that "purpose by design" and the "accidental side-effect" encapsulated in the cliched instruments of destruction (with its overtones of being unwitting tools under the control of some higher entity such as Fate or the Devil). Nov 28, 2014 at 13:35
  • I was commenting on the writing style. But the author is trying to make a little parable to show the legal difference between instrument and instrumentality. Not the clearest parable I've ever heard.
    – TimR
    Nov 28, 2014 at 13:37
  • 1
    It's not clunky. It scholarly legal writing.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:03

1 Answer 1


Instrumentality simply means that it can become (or be used as) as instrument. An instrumentality is that which can be wielded as an instrument, i.e. perceived in terms of its capacity to be wielded.

Not all instruments can be held in the hand, of course; some can be abstractions, such as a legal entity, which can be "wielded" by another legal entity. A parent corporation can "wield" a subsidiary as if it were an "instrument".

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