I find it hard to remember the suffixes in the word vertebra:


  • arcus vertebrae, lamina arcus vertebrae, pediculus arcus vertebrae, corpus vertebrae
  • vertebrae thoracicae, vertebrae lumbalis


  • facies intervertebralis, canalis vertebralis, incisura vertebralis superior, pars vertebralis, columna vertebralis


  • vertebra prominens


  • foramen intervertebrale, foramen vertebrale

where 'lis' seems be due to genitive form but '-le', '-' and '-e' look harder to understand.

Can you kindly explain the formation of suffixes in the noun, vertebra?

  • 2
    Welcome to the site and thanks for a good question! I took the liberty to edit a bit, but feel free to roll back or edit further.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


There are two distinct words here:

  • The noun vertebra.
  • The adjective vertebralis, "related to vertebra".

The adjective is derived from the noun, and both the noun and the adjective have various different forms. This is an important starting point and helps make sense of such Latin terms.

Adding the prefix inter- to the adjective turns it into a new adjective intervertebralis, "between vertebrae" or "inter-vertebral".

The two cases you seem to need are nominative and genitive. There are more cases, but they seem less relevant here.

The noun vertebra is always a feminine, but the adjective takes a different form depending on the gender of the noun it modifies. The words facies, pars, columna are feminine, canalis is masculine, and foramen is neuter. You can check the gender of a noun in any good online Latin dictionary.

Here are the relevant singular forms:

Type Nominative Genitive
Noun vertebra vertebrae
(masculine or feminine)
vertebralis vertebralis
vertebrale vertebralis

And here are the plural ones for comparison:

Type Nominative Genitive
Noun vertebrae vertebrarum
(masculine or feminine)
vertebrales vertebralium
vertebralia vertebralium

The only possible plural is the nominative of the noun, and all singular instances you have listed are either the genitive case of the noun ("of vertebra"), the nominative case of the noun ("vertebra") or the nominative case of the adjective in any gender. These are bold in the table above. I listed the other ones to remind that these are an excerpt from a much bigger system.

When two forms look alike (e.g. "of a vertebra" and "many vertebrae"), context helps. If you can infer the meaning, it helps a lot. In vertebrae thoracicae there seems to be an adjective in the same form and they are unlikely to be both genitive if they stand alone, so they are almost certainly plural nominative. The word order also contains hints, as typically an adjective will follow the noun. I am not sure if this is hard rule in anatomy, but it is not in Latin in general.

For some adjectives all three genders look different, but for this one the masculine and feminine look alike. The adjective vertebratus ("vertebrate") looks different in the three genders (m/f/n) in nominative (vertebratus/vertebrata/vertebratum) and genitive (vertebrati/vertebratae/vertebrati). You might notice that the feminine version has the same endings as vertebra.

The same or similar endings also occur elsewhere. For example, vertebrae is not only the singular genitive and the plural nominative but also the singular dative. I have refrained from giving complete paradigms here.

  • 2
    The nominative plural is also "vertebrae", as in "vertebrae thoracicae".
    – gmvh
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 10:45
  • 1
    @gmvh Good point! I added a remark on that. I don't want to list all possible things here, but to give the necessary core insight. But it's good to know that a form that looks familiar might not be familiar.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 11:17
  • 1
    @C.M.Weimer Good point! The singular genitive is not unusual in anatomy from what I remember, but the plural nominative is common and perhaps more so. I added a plural table as well so that all the possibly relevant forms are visible. (For example, arcus vertebrae is "the arc of a vertebra", so this is a singular genitive.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 15:44
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Yes, sorry, I should have been clearer. Some are plural, some are genitive! Hasty typing, I suppose.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 18:34

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