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Apparatus vs. Instrument: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
An apparatus is a complex set of equipment or machinery, while an instrument is a tool or device for precise work, often for measurement or control.
Apparatus vs. Instrument

Key Differences

An apparatus typically refers to a complex system or setup consisting of many parts, used for a specific function in scientific experiments or industrial processes. An instrument, however, is usually a singular tool designed for a specific task, particularly in precision work such as measurements, observations, or surgical procedures.
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In a laboratory setting, an apparatus may consist of several instruments and tools combined to perform a series of operations. An instrument in the same context would be used to take a specific measurement, like a thermometer or a microscope, which is often a component of a larger apparatus.
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The term apparatus can also be used in an organizational context, referring to the structural setup of an entity or body, such as the "apparatus of government." An instrument, in a more metaphorical sense, can refer to a means by which something is achieved, like a policy tool or legal document that facilitates a particular aim.
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Apparatuses are often permanent or semi-permanent installations within a facility, such as the heating apparatus in a building or the apparatus in a gymnastics competition. An instrument is usually portable and can be handheld, like a musical instrument or a surgeon's scalpel.
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The usage of apparatus often implies a collective and systemic function, whereas an instrument implies a more singular and direct function. An apparatus may require operational knowledge of its components, while an instrument, being more specific, may require skillful precision in its use.
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Comparison Chart

Complexity

Typically complex, consisting of various components
Usually a single, precise tool
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Usage

Used for a system of tasks
Used for specific tasks, often for detailed work
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Portability

Often large and not portable
Generally portable and handheld
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Context

Scientific, industrial, organizational
Scientific, medical, musical, legal
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Function

Collective system operation
Singular, direct operation or measurement
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Apparatus and Instrument Definitions

Apparatus

The equipment needed for an activity
The fire department dispatched with their full apparatus.
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Instrument

A tool for precision work
The surgeon requested a finer instrument for the procedure.
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Apparatus

The functional machinery within an organism
The respiratory apparatus allows for gas exchange.
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Instrument

A device for recording or measuring
The meteorological instruments indicated a drop in pressure.
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Apparatus

A collective term for gymnastic equipment
The gymnast excelled on the parallel bars apparatus.
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Instrument

A means to accomplish something
Diplomacy is an instrument of foreign policy.
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Apparatus

A complex device for a specific purpose
The diving apparatus was checked for safety.
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Instrument

A tool used by a professional
The pilot checked the aircraft's instruments before takeoff.
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Apparatus

An appliance or device for a particular purpose
An x-ray apparatus.
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Instrument

A musical device
She played the violin, her favorite instrument, beautifully.
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Apparatus

An integrated group of materials or devices used for a particular purpose
Dental apparatus.
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Oct 19, 2023

Instrument

A tool or implement used to do or facilitate work, especially a small precision tool used by a professional
Sterilized the scalpel and other surgical instruments.
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Oct 19, 2023

Apparatus

The totality of means by which a designated function is performed or a specific task executed, as in a system of government.
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Instrument

A device for recording, measuring, or controlling, especially such a device functioning as part of a control system.
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Apparatus

A political organization or an underground political movement. Also called apparat.
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Oct 19, 2023

Instrument

(Music) A device designed to enable a person to make musical sounds, as by blowing into it, striking it, depressing the keys on a keyboard, or plucking, strumming, or running a bow over strings.
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Apparatus

(Physiology) A group or system of organs that collectively perform a specific function or process
The respiratory apparatus.
The digestive apparatus.
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Instrument

A means by which something is done; an agency
"The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us" (Shakespeare).
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Apparatus

The critical and source material, usually including notes and a glossary, that accompanies a scholarly edition of a text.
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Oct 19, 2023

Instrument

One used by another to accomplish a purpose; a dupe.
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Oct 19, 2023

Apparatus

The entirety of means whereby a specific production is made existent or task accomplished.
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Instrument

A legal document, especially one that represents a right of payment or conveys an interest, such as a check, promissory note, deed, or will.
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Oct 19, 2023

Apparatus

A complex machine or instrument.
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Instrument

To provide or equip with instruments.
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Apparatus

(collective) An assortment of tools and instruments.
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Instrument

(Music) To compose or arrange for performance.
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Apparatus

A bureaucratic organization, especially one influenced by political patronage.
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Instrument

A device used to produce music.
The violinist was a master of her instrument.
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Apparatus

(firefighting) A vehicle used for emergency response.
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Instrument

A means or agency for achieving an effect.
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Apparatus

(gymnastics) Any of the equipment on which the gymnasts perform their movements.
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Instrument

A measuring or displaying device.
The instrument detected an increase in radioactivity.
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Apparatus

(video games) A complex, highly modified weapon (typically not a firearm); a weaponized “Rube Goldberg machine.”
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Instrument

A tool, implement used for manipulation or measurement.
The dentist set down his tray of instruments.
The scientist recorded the temperature with a thermometer but wished he had a more accurate instrument.
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Oct 19, 2023

Apparatus

Things provided as means to some end.
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Instrument

Ellipsis of flight instrument
Flight within clouds must be made by reference to your instruments.
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Apparatus

Hence: A full collection or set of implements, or utensils, for a given duty, experimental or operative; any complex instrument or appliance, mechanical or chemical, for a specific action or operation; machinery; mechanism.
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Instrument

(legal) A legal document, such as a contract, deed, trust, mortgage, power, indenture, or will.
A bond indenture is the instrument that gives a bond its value.
Negotiable instruments are the foundation of the debt markets.
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Apparatus

A collection of organs all of which unite in a common function; as, the respiratory apparatus.
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Oct 19, 2023

Instrument

(figuratively) A person used as a mere tool for achieving a goal.
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Apparatus

Equipment designed to serve a specific function
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Instrument

(transitive) To apply measuring devices.
An instrumented test article
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Apparatus

(anatomy) a group of body parts that work together to perform a given function;
The breathing apparatus
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Instrument

(transitive) To devise, conceive, cook up, plan.
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Apparatus

A political or administrative structure
The party's apparatus was vast and complex.
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Instrument

To perform upon an instrument; to prepare for an instrument.
A sonata instrumented for orchestra
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Instrument

That by means of which any work is performed, or result is effected; a tool; a utensil; an implement; a device; as, the instruments of a mechanic; astronomical instruments.
All the lofty instruments of war.
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Instrument

A contrivance or implement, by which musical sounds are produced; as, a musical instrument.
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
But signs when songs and instruments he hears.
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Instrument

A writing, as the means of giving formal expression to some act; a writing expressive of some act, contract, process, as a deed, contract, writ, etc.
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Instrument

One who, or that which, is made a means, or is caused to serve a purpose; a medium, means, or agent; as, their army was primarily an instrument of oppression.
Or useful serving man and instrument,To any sovereign state.
The bold are but the instruments of the wise.
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Instrument

To perform upon an instrument; to prepare for an instrument; as, a sonata instrumented for orchestra.
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Instrument

To furnish or equip with instruments; to attach instruments to; as, the fighter planes were heavily instrumented; the patient was instrumented to monitor him remotely.
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Instrument

A device that requires skill for proper use
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Instrument

The means whereby some act is accomplished;
My greed was the instrument of my destruction
Science has given us new tools to fight disease
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Instrument

A person used by another to gain an end
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Instrument

(law) a document that states some contractual relationship or grants some right
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Instrument

The semantic role of the entity (usually inanimate) that the agent uses to perform an action or start a process
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Instrument

Any of various devices or contrivances that can be used to produce musical tones or sounds
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Instrument

Equip with instruments for measuring, recording, or controlling
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Instrument

Write an instrumental score for
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Instrument

Address a legal document to
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Can the term apparatus refer to a single item?

It's less common, as apparatus usually implies a set of equipment.
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Is an instrument always part of an apparatus?

Not always; instruments can function independently.
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Can an apparatus include multiple instruments?

Yes, an apparatus can include a variety of instruments.
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Is a scalpel an instrument or an apparatus?

A scalpel is an instrument used for surgical precision.
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Is a guitar considered an apparatus?

No, a guitar is typically referred to as an instrument.
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Is an instrument always handheld?

Often, but not exclusively, as some large instruments are not handheld.
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Do instruments require specialized training?

Yes, operating many instruments requires specialized skills.
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Would a smartphone be considered an apparatus or an instrument?

A smartphone is more often considered an instrument due to its precision uses.
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Would a vehicle be an apparatus?

Yes, a vehicle could be considered an apparatus.
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Nov 08, 2023

Can apparatus be used metaphorically?

Yes, it can refer metaphorically to organizational systems.
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Is an instrument used in sports?

Not typically; sports use equipment or gear rather than "instruments."
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Could software be considered an instrument or an apparatus?

Software is usually considered a tool or instrument, particularly if it performs specific functions.
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Can the term instrument be used in finance?

Yes, financial instruments are assets or packages of capital.
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Nov 08, 2023

Is a book an instrument or an apparatus?

It's neither; a book is typically referred to as a medium or a resource.
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What's the difference between a musical instrument and a scientific instrument?

A musical instrument creates sound; a scientific instrument makes measurements or observations.
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Can an apparatus function without any instruments?

Usually, an apparatus relies on instruments for its full function.
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Nov 08, 2023

Is a thermometer an instrument?

Yes, it's an instrument used to measure temperature.
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What's a common example of an apparatus in science?

A distillation setup is a common scientific apparatus.
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Nov 08, 2023

Would a complete computer setup be an apparatus?

It could be considered an apparatus if it includes multiple components for a specific function.
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Does an apparatus require maintenance?

Yes, apparatuses often require regular maintenance due to their complexity.
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Nov 08, 2023

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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