The Plural of Vertebra: Here’s What It Is and How to Use It

English is a language that generously borrows from other languages. Many words do not follow the common rules of the English language, and the word vertebra (pronounced ˈvɜr tə brə) is one of these words. It may be confusing to use the word vertebra in a sentence because you aren’t sure how it should be used correctly. Is it used to describe one bone or multiple? In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day, its synonyms, and learn when to use it. 

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Is Vertebra Singular or Plural?

When understanding a word, it may be helpful to look at its definition. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of vertebra is “one of the bony or cartilaginous segments composing the spinal column.”

The word vertebra is singular, referring to one of the bones in the spine. According to, there are 33 distinct bones that make up vertebrae, all interlocking to form the spinal column. There are three components to every single bone: the transverse processes, the vertebral body, and the vertebral arch. 

This term is often used by doctors that deal with bones such as orthopedic surgeons or chiropractors. Each joint of the spine has its own function in supporting the back. The spine itself is fascinating, as it has over 120 muscles in it. The cartilage in the spine can also expand and contract. Baby’s spines start developing about two months after conception.

You may hear people referring to the cervical vertebra or the lumbar vertebrae— this has to do with which segments of the spinal column you are referring to. The lumbar spine is the lower part of the spine, while the cervical vertebrae support the head. 

The presents of vertebra can also be used as a classification system. Higher vertebrates are considered to be smarter, and humans are among these, as opposed to lower vertebrates like fish and amphibians. 

What Is the Difference Between Vertebrae and Vertebra?

The main difference between vertebrae and vertebra is one is the pluralized version of the other. This can get complicated because the vertebrae make up the entire series of small bones in the back, which have several projections for muscle attachment. They also have a hole where the spinal cord passes through. The vertebrae in a human are divided into different regions that correspond to the curves of the spinal column. These regions are called the lumbar spine, thoracic spine, cervical spine, sacrum, and coccyx. 

The vertebra consists of two parts, the vertebral body and the vertebral arch. In human beings, the size of the vertebrae varies depending on the placement of the vertebral column, posture, and spinal loading. The vertebrae change to better accommodate the needs of the spine in relation to stress and mobility. 

There are quite a few medical anomalies related to the vertebrae, including spina bifida and scoliosis. Spina bifida is when the vertebral arch is not fully formed, and scoliosis is a spinal curvature which can result in spinal cord compression. 

 To fully understand the specifics of all the bones in your back, you may need several years of professional medical training.

The History and Origin of the Word

Understanding where a word originated from helps us to better grasp what a word means. Culture affects language and the way it changes, so it is important to examine those things when learning about a word. The etymology of vertebra dates back to the early 15th century. It comes from the phrase “bone of the spine” from Latin.  The word “vertere” in Latin means “to turn” is very similar to the word vertebra. The idea of the word’s origin is that it meant the “hinge” of the body. The spine is extremely flexible, so that notion makes sense.

Animals that have a backbone or a spinal column are called “vertebrates.” These animals include birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. There are about 65,000 known species of vertebrate. This only accounts for around 3% of the animals on Earth. Vertebrate animals can be either warm-blooded or cold-blooded and can come in all shapes and sizes.

Examples of the Word in Context

A good way to know if you are using a word correctly is to look at some examples of the word being used in a sentence. This way, you are more prepared to have a discussion involving this word and can feel like you know what you’re talking about.

Here are some example sentences of the word vertebrae:

  • The vertebrae in her neck are fused, and she has to use a wheelchair.
  • The discs between the vertebrae serve as the pivots of rotation.
  • Youthful carcasses will have cartilaginous caps on the thoracic vertebrae.
  • The entire neural spine and arch of the first two vertebrae of this series are exposed.

You may hear this word thrown into a conversation here and there, but it is not extremely common outside of the medical community. Most people in casual conversation might say their back hurts but probably won’t go into detail on which vertebra is in pain. Although if you watch a lot of medical television shows, you may hear the word vertebra quite often. 

Synonyms for Vertebra

Learning words with similar meanings can be a good way to solidify a word into your memory. Here are some synonyms for the word vertebra. 

  • Back: the rear surface of the human body from the shoulders to the hips.
  • Spine: the spinal or vertebral column; backbone.
  • Any backbone-like part.
  • Chine: The backbone or spine, especially of an animal. 
  • Rachis: the axis of an inflorescence when somewhat elongated, as in a raceme.

In Summary

Vertebrae is a word you should be familiar with because it directly affects you as a human being. Everyone has a spine, and it may come in handy to know that the little bones in the spine are called vertebra. This word is a bit unusual because not many words add an “e” to make it plural. Most words add an “es” or “s,” but this word does not follow those rules.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you now understand how to use the word correctly and when to use its plural form.