• synonyms


[vur-tuh-brit, -breyt]
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  1. having vertebrae; having a backbone or spinal column.
  2. belonging or pertaining to the Vertebrata (or Craniata), a subphylum of chordate animals, comprising those having a brain enclosed in a skull or cranium and a segmented spinal column; a major taxonomic group that includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes.
  1. a vertebrate animal.

Origin of vertebrate

First recorded in 1820–30, vertebrate is from the Latin word vertebrātus jointed. See vertebra, -ate1
Related formsnon·ver·te·brate, adjective, nounsub·ver·te·brate, noun, adjectiveun·ver·te·brate, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for vertebrates

Historical Examples

  • In man and other vertebrates, hermaphrodism is always abnormal.

    The Sexual Question

    August Forel

  • All these facts tell in favour of the common descent of man and all other vertebrates.

  • Who can tell, for instance, how Vertebrates arose or from what origin?

  • The law of parallelism applied not only to Vertebrates but also to Invertebrates.

    Form and Function

    E. S. (Edward Stuart) Russell

  • Dugès also made a comparison of Articulates with Vertebrates.

    Form and Function

    E. S. (Edward Stuart) Russell

British Dictionary definitions for vertebrates


  1. any chordate animal of the subphylum Vertebrata, characterized by a bony or cartilaginous skeleton and a well-developed brain: the group contains fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals
  1. of, relating to, or belonging to the subphylum Vertebrata
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

Word Origin and History for vertebrates



1826, from Latin vertebratus (Pliny), from vertebra "joint or articulation of the body, joint of the spine" (see vertebra).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

vertebrates in Medicine


(vûrtə-brĭt, -brāt′)
  1. Having a spinal column.
  2. Of or characteristic of a vertebrate.
  1. A member of the subphylum Vertebrata.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

vertebrates in Science


[vûrtə-brĭt, -brāt′]
  1. Any of a large group of chordates of the subphylum Vertebrata (or Craniata), characterized by having a backbone. Vertebrates are bilaterally symmetrical and have an internal skeleton of bone or cartilage, a nervous system divided into brain and spinal cord, and not more than two pairs of limbs. Vertebrates have a well-developed body cavity (called a coelom) containing a chambered heart, large digestive organs, liver, pancreas, and paired kidneys, and their blood contains both red and white corpuscles. Vertebrates include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

vertebrates in Culture


[(vur-tuh-bruhts, vur-tuh-brayts)]

Animals that have a spinal cord enclosed in a backbone.


The five traditional classes of vertebrates are amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, and reptiles. (Compare invertebrates.)


Human beings are vertebrates.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.