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A finger is a type of digit, an organ of manipulation and sensation found in the hands of humans and other primates.[1][2]

Normally humans have five digits, termed phalanges,[2] on each hand (exceptions are polydactyly, hypodactyly and digit loss). The first digit is the thumb, followed by index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and little finger or pinky. Some other languages use the same generic term for all five digits of a hand.

English dictionaries describe finger as meaning either one of the five digits including the thumb, or one of the four excluding the thumb (in which case they are numbered from 1 to 4 starting with the index finger closest to the thumb).[1][2][3] Linguistically, it appears that the original sense was to include the thumb as a finger: *penkwe-ros[citation needed] (also rendered as *penqrós[citation needed]) was, in the inferred Proto-Indo-European language, a suffixed form of *penkwe (or *penqe), "five", which has[citation needed]citation needed]​ given rise to many Indo-European-family words (tens of them defined in English dictionaries) that involve or flow from concepts of fiveness.

Chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have lower limbs that are specialized for manipulation, and have fingers on their lower limbs as well. The term 'finger' is not applied to the digits of most other animals, such as canines, felines, or ungulates, none of which can engage in fine manipulation with their forelimbs as a primate can.


Further information: Hand#Muscles and tendonsEach finger may flex and extend, abduct and adduct, and so also circumduct. Flexion is by far the strongest movement. In humans, there are two large muscles that produce flexion of each finger, and additional muscles that augment the movement. Each finger may move independently of the others, though the muscle bulks that move each finger may be partly blended, and the tendons may be attached to each other by a net of fibrous tissue, preventing completely free movement. This is particularly noticeable when trying to extend the fourth digit (third finger) with the others flexed.

Fingers are usually moved under conscious control. In humans, they are used for grasping, typing, grooming, writing, caressing, and many other activities. They are also used in signaling, as when wearing a wedding ring, finger counting or when communicating in sign language.

Aside from the genitals, the fingertips possess the highest concentration of touch receptors and thermoreceptors among all areas of the human skin, making them extremely sensitive to temperature, pressure, vibration, texture, and moisture. Thus fingers are commonly used as sensory probes to ascertain properties of objects encountered in the world, and so they are prone to injury.

Fingers do not contain muscles other than arrector pili muscles. The muscles that move the finger joints are in the palm and forearm. The long tendons that deliver motion from the forearm muscles may be observed to move under the skin at the wrist and on the back of the hand.


Each of the fingers has unique cultural and functional significance. From the thumb on the radial side to the ulnar side of the hand, the fingers are in this order:

  1. Thumb, often considered not to be a finger
  2. Index finger, also called 'pointer finger', or 'forefinger'
  3. Middle finger, often the longest
  4. Ring finger, also known as fourth finger
  5. Little finger, also known as 'pinky'

Finger ratio[]

One of the major finger issues in modern science is John T. Manning's digit ratio, sometimes described as finger ratio - which concerns the ratio of the 2nd finger (index finger) and the 4th finger (ring finger).[4] In 2008 John Manning presented an update on his finger ratio research, titled: 'The finger book'.

Anomalies and diseases[]

A rare anatomical variation affects 1 in 500 humans,[5] in which the individual has more than the usual number of digits; this is known as polydactyly. A human may also be born without one or more fingers. Extra fingers can be functional. In one individual with seven fingers not only used them but claimed that they “gave him some advantages in playing the piano.”[6]

Phalanges are commonly fractured. A damaged tendon can cause significant loss of function in fine motor control, such as with a mallet finger.

The fingers are commonly affected by diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Diabetics often use the fingers to obtain blood samples for regular blood sugar testing. Raynaud's phenomenon is a neurovascular disorder that affects the fingers.

Brain representation[]

Each finger has an orderly somatotopic representation on the cerebral cortex in the somatosensory cortex area 3b,[7] part of area 1[8] and a distributed, overlapping representations in the supplementary motor area and primary motor area.[9]

The somatosensory cortex representation of the hand is a dynamic reflection of the fingers on the external hand: in syndactyly people have a clubhand of webbed, shortened fingers. However, not only are the fingers of their hands fused, but the cortical maps of their individual fingers also form a club hand. The fingers can be surgically divided to make a more useful hand. Surgeons did this at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery in New York to a 32-year-old man with the initials O. G.. They touching O. G.’s fingers before and after surgery while using MRI brain scans. Before the surgery, the fingers mapped onto his brain were fused close together; afterward, the maps of his individual fingers did indeed separate and take the layout corresponding to a normal hand.[10]

Colloquial imagery usage[]

The term 'finger' appears in common, colloquial linguistic imagery (Doodson, 2009):

  1. Il dito del piede (Italian) - referring to the 'finger of the foot' suggesting that the toe is merely[citation needed] a finger on the foot appendage
  2. 'Wrapped around the finger' - referring to a man's submitting to the requests of a woman regardless of his desire (or vice versa). Generally has negative connotations of not having control. Usage includes "my housemate is wrapped around his girlfriend's finger". Often considered weakness.
  3. Pointing the finger - referring to blaming an individual or object. Usually negatively connotated
  4. Finger snapping


  1. 1.0 1.1 Chambers 1998 page 603
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Oxford Illustrated pages 311,380
  3. Oxford Advanced page 326
  4. Mills, Michael Digit Ratio: A Pointer to Fertility, Behavior and Health by John T. Manning. Book review. Human Nature Review. URL accessed on 2008-06-26.
  5. Greene, Alan Polydactylism. URL accessed on 2008-06-26.
  6. Dwight T. (1892). Fusion of hands. Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History, 4, 473-486.
  7. van Westen D, Fransson P, Olsrud J, Rosén B, Lundborg G, Larsson EM. (2004). Fingersomatotopy in area 3b: an fMRI-study. BMC Neurosci. 5:28. PMID 15320953
  8. Nelson AJ, Chen R. (2008). Digit somatotopy within cortical areas of the postcentral gyrus in humans. Cereb Cortex. 18(10):2341-51. PMID 18245039
  9. Kleinschmidt A, Nitschke MF, Frahm J. (1997). Somatotopy in the human motor cortex hand area. A high-resolution functional MRI study. Eur J Neurosci. 9(10):2178-86. PMID 9421177
  10. Mogilner A, Grossman JA, Ribary U, Joliot M, Volkmann J, Rapaport D, Beasley RW, Llinás RR. (1993). Somatosensory cortical plasticity in adult humans revealed by magnetoencephalography. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 90(8):3593-7. PMID 8386377

See also[]


  • [1998] (2000) The Chambers Dictionary, Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.
  • [1975] (1976) The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, Great Britain: Oxford University Press.
  • [1974] (1974) Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, London: Oxford University Press.

External links[]

Human anatomical features
Human body features

HEAD: ForeheadEyeEarNoseMouthTongueTeethJawFaceCheekChin

NECK: ThroatAdam's apple

TORSO: ShouldersSpineChestBreastRibcageAbdomenBelly button

Sex organs (Penis/Scrotum/Testicle or Clitoris/Vagina/Ovary/Uterus) – HipAnusButtocks

LIMBS: ArmElbowForearmWristHandFinger (Thumb - Index finger - Middle finger - Ring finger - Little finger) – LegLapThighKneeCalfHeelAnkleFootToe (Hallux)

SKIN: Hair

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