Alumni vs. Alumnus

Do you know if you’re an alumnus or an alumni? Alumni actually is the plural form of alumnus, a Latin word that means a graduate or former student of an educational institution. Although alumnus usually refers to academics, it can also mean a former employee, associate, or member of any organized group. Alumni refers to more than one alumnus (think of a graduating class). The plural form is used so widely that a lot of people confuse them.


The word alumnus comes from a Latin word meaning student. The Latin root of this word is masculine, so it’s traditionally been used to refer to male students. However, this might be changing. Today it refers to an individual who once studied at a school, college, or university, but has since graduated or moved on. You could, for example, say “Kevin is an alumnus of UC Berkeley,” and it would mean Kevin studied there, but has since graduated.


Alumni refers to a group of two or more former students of a particular school. An alumni association is a college or university’s association of former students.


Turns out there’s a slightly different word for women! The Latin word alumnus is traditionally male. The traditional feminine form is alumna. The plural form of alumna is alumnae. In general, you can use alumni as a gender-neutral word for a group that includes both male and female graduates. But if the group includes only women, you should use alumnae instead.


You can shorten the words alumnus, alumna, alumnae, or alumni to alum. Just keep in mind that alum is pretty informal. There’s no problem using it in everyday conversation, but use it with caution in more formal settings.

Lastly, congratulations! You’ve just mastered four very similar Latin words.

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