ves·​ti·​gial ve-ˈsti-jē-əl How to pronounce vestigial (audio)
of a body part or organ : remaining in a form that is small or imperfectly developed and not able to function : being or having the form of a vestige (see vestige sense 2)
a vestigial tail
Kiwis lack an external tail, and their vestigial wings are entirely hidden beneath a curious plumage—shaggy, more like fur than feathers …Stephen Jay Gould
: remaining as the last small part of something that existed before
It's held in the Gold Room, a vestigial ballroom of the kind that every downtown hotel uses for banquets and conventions.William Zinsser
Later colonial laws … prohibited even speaking the Pequot language, now long dead but for a few vestigial words.Kirk Johnson
vestigially adverb

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Later, the attacking cells were shown to come from the thymus, a small, spongy organ, then thought to be vestigial, that straddled the esophagus. Dhruv Khullar, The New Yorker, 11 Aug. 2021 Any structure other than the male hemipenis was assumed by men in zoological fields to be vestigial or to only act as additional stimulation for male reptiles. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Mar. 2023 The edits made for a clumsily uneven work of vestigial intimacy and blunt, bombastic flag-waving. Joshua Barone, New York Times, 10 Mar. 2023 Even the showy grille and the vestigial spare-tire hump seem surprisingly appropriate. Csaba Csere, Car and Driver, 9 Feb. 2023 The key lies in determining how that vestigial light is polarized — basically, how the light waves are oriented. Steve Nadis, Discover Magazine, 25 Nov. 2014 In the same article, Gairdner proposes that the foreskin is far from vestigial, a term applied to features that have lost their function during evolution. Tim Brinkhof, Discover Magazine, 17 Jan. 2022 An odd, vestigial storyline about Aaron’s high-school friend is only there to reflect Bobby’s insecurities. Alison Willmore, Vulture, 30 Sep. 2022 End any vestigial difference between a citizen and resident. Victor Davis Hanson, Arkansas Online, 5 Dec. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vestigial.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin vestigium + English -al entry 1

First Known Use

1843, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vestigial was in 1843

Dictionary Entries Near vestigial

Cite this Entry

“Vestigial.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 May. 2023.

Medical Definition


ves·​tig·​ial ve-ˈstij-(ē-)əl How to pronounce vestigial (audio)
: of, relating to, or being a vestige
a vestigial structure
vestigially adverb

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