ver·​te·​brate | \ˈvər-tə-brət, -ˌbrāt \

Definition of vertebrate 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: any of a subphylum (Vertebrata) of chordates that comprises animals (such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) typically having a bony or cartilaginous spinal colum which replaces the notochord, a distinct head containing a brain which arises as an enlarged part of the nerve cord, and an internal usually bony skeleton and that includes some primitive forms (such as lampreys) in which the spinal column is absent and the notochord persists throughout life



Definition of vertebrate (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : having a spinal column

b : of or relating to the vertebrates

2 : organized or constructed in orderly or developed form

Examples of vertebrate in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Elinor Karlsson, a co-author of the Nature paper and director of vertebrate genomics at the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the core problem is how consumer test results are being interpreted. Kim Kavin, The Seattle Times, "Don’t use dog DNA tests to make life-or-death decisions for your pet, experts warn," 30 July 2018 To understand what happened to those early birds, Daniel Field, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues looked at three lines of evidence. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "This quaillike creature was the only bird to survive the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact," 24 May 2018 The biggest expansion of cephalopod rights came in 2013, when an EU-wide directive gave them the same protections as vertebrates in scientific studies in 28 countries. Danna Staaf, Science | AAAS, "How to put an octopus to sleep—and make cephalopod research more humane," 4 Apr. 2018 The neural circuits that govern social behavior and reward arose early in vertebrate evolution and are present in birds, reptiles, bony fishes and amphibians, as well as mammals. Leslie Henderson, Scientific American, "Why Our Brains See the World as "Us" versus "Them"," 22 June 2018 Scott Boback, a vertebrate ecologist at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, notes that the species is an ambush predator. National Geographic, "Python Swallows Woman Whole—What Experts Say About the Rare Attack," 18 June 2018 The first saw the emergence of brachiopods and molluscs, the second that of annelids, cnidarians, echinoderms and chordates (a group that includes the vertebrates). The Economist, "The Cambrian explosion was caused by a lack of oxygen, not an abundance," 7 June 2018 The flightless bird grew to be 10 feet tall, weighed between 770 and 1,100 pounds and laid the largest eggs of any vertebrate — even dinosaurs. Stephen Sorace, Fox News, "Egg of extinct elephant bird was mislabeled as fake for decades, museum realizes," 25 Apr. 2018 But Lisa Buckley, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in northeast British Columbia who specializes in interpreting ancient animal tracks, agrees. Maya Wei-haas, Smithsonian, "Rare Mammoth Tracks Reveal an Intimate Portrait of Herd Life," 26 Feb. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Scientists just named the longest-living species of vertebrate animal. William Herkewitz, Popular Mechanics, "There Is a Shark That Can Live for 400 Years," 11 Aug. 2016 The project aims to be the most complete bird tree of life to date, and is the first to be done on a vertebrate animal group. Kat Eschner, Smithsonian, "What We Can Learn From a New Bird Tree of Life," 21 Apr. 2018 But in an attempt to understand the evolution of RNA viruses, researchers have started to survey other vertebrate classes including fishes, amphibians and reptiles. Giorgia Guglielmi, Scientific American, "Huge Trove of Unknown Viruses Found in Fish, Frogs and Reptiles," 5 Apr. 2018 But Christopher Milensky, collections manager of vertebrate zoology, couldn't choose just one object. Jackson Landers, Smithsonian, "Why These Humans Are Museum Treasures, Too," 22 May 2017 For example, black widows make α-latrotoxin, which specifically attacks vertebrate nerve cells, but the house spider does not. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "Spider genes put a new spin on arachnids’ potent venoms, stunning silks, and surprising history," 19 Oct. 2017 But these are all vertebrate mammals, and their reasoning, to different degrees, often mirrors our own. Colin Dickey, New Republic, "When Squid Ruled the Earth," 21 Sep. 2017 Take the spine: all vertebrate creatures share an evolutionary history right back to the point at which the first nerve cord appeared. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Ravens ignore a treat in favor of a useful tool for the future," 14 July 2017 Black bears are poor predators and only eat vertebrate animals when the opportunity presents itself, Jaworowski says. Frank Sargeant,, "Black bears in Alabama may be increasing," 21 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vertebrate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of vertebrate


1826, in the meaning defined above


1820, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for vertebrate


New Latin Vertebrata, from neuter plural of vertebratus


New Latin vertebratus, from Latin, jointed, from vertebra

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23 Nov 2018

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The first known use of vertebrate was in 1820

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English Language Learners Definition of vertebrate

biology : an animal that has a backbone


ver·​te·​brate | \ˈvər-tə-brət \

Kids Definition of vertebrate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: having vertebrae or a backbone Mammals are vertebrate animals.



Kids Definition of vertebrate (Entry 2 of 2)

: an animal (as a fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, or mammal) that has a backbone extending down the back of the body


ver·​te·​brate | \ˈvərt-ə-brət, -ˌbrāt \

Medical Definition of vertebrate 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : having a spinal column

2 : of or relating to the subphylum Vertebrata



Medical Definition of vertebrate (Entry 2 of 2)

: an animal of the subphylum Vertebrata

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with vertebrate

Spanish Central: Translation of vertebrate

Nglish: Translation of vertebrate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of vertebrate for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about vertebrate

Comments on vertebrate

What made you want to look up vertebrate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make faulty or ineffective

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