Ribs are described based on their location and connection with the sternum. Ribs that articulate directly with the sternum are called true ribs, whereas those that connect indirectly via cartilage are termed false ribs.
The terms true and false rib describe rib pairs that are directly or indirectly attached to the sternum. The phrase true rib (Latin: costae verae), or fixed rib, refers to the first seven, or vertebrosternal, rib pairs. The phrase false rib (Latin: costae spuriae), or vertebrochondral ribs refers to the eighth-to-twelfth pairs of ribs. The eighth-to-tenth pairs of ribs connect to the sternum indirectly via the costal cartilages of the ribs above them. Their elasticity allows ribcage movement for respiratory activity.
The phrase floating rib (Latin: costae fluitantes) refers to the two lowermost, the eleventh and twelfth, rib pairs; so-called because they are attached only to the vertebrae–and not to the sternum or cartilage of the sternum. These ribs are relatively small and delicate, and include a cartilaginous tip.
Each rib consists of a head, neck, and a shaft, and they are numbered from top to bottom. The head of a rib is the end part closest to the spine with which it articulates. It is marked by a kidney-shaped articular surface which is divided by a horizontal crest into two facets. The superior facet is smaller and articulates with the vertebra above, and the inferior facet articulates with the vertebra of the same number. The transverse process of a thoracic vertebra also articulates with the rib of the same number. The crest gives attachment to the intra-articular ligament. All ribs are attached posteriorly to the thoracic vertebrae.