Alumna, Alumnae, Alumni, Alumnus – What’s the Difference?

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

If you know anyone who has graduated from a higher educational institution (or have yourself), you’ve most likely used or heard the term “alumni” concerning your graduation status. You’ve also probably confused the terms alumna, alumnus, and alumnae,

Used since the 17th Century, the word alumni and its related uses refer to male and female college graduates. This Latin-inspired word is often improperly used due to how many people are understandably unfamiliar with the genders and plurals of Latin nouns.

We’ve helped define each word below and used them in sentences to help you recognize their proper use for application in your own writing.

History of Alumni

Alumni usage trend.

Alumnus is a Latin word derived from alere, meaning to “bring up” or “nourish.” Alere was used in literature to describe a child raised and nourished by a person other than their parents. It referred to abandoned or orphaned children and appeared in Roman law to describe a child in fosterage.

Alumnus, and its other recognizable Latin forms, have been regularly used in an educational context since 1643 after the first gathering of Harvard alumni.

Alumni is a plural noun referring either to a group of male graduates or to a group of both male and female graduates. The singular “alumnus” refers to one male graduate, “alumna” refers to one female graduate, and the plural “alumnae” refers to a group of female graduates.

How to Use Alumni

Alumni is the masculine plural form, but it is used to describe a group of both men and women who are former students, graduates, members, or contributors to an educational institution.

For example:

  • The Alumni Association at the college provided networking opportunities for all former graduates.

It also can refer to a group of all-male graduates.

  • My husband and his fraternity brother alumni get together on a deep-sea fishing excursion every two years.

How to Use Alumna

Alumna is the feminine singular form. It is used to describe a single female former student, graduate, member, or contributor of an educational institution.

For example:

  • Jennifer Wilson, a fellow alumna of my alma mater, was invited to be the guest speaker at the Women’s Unite Conference in Denver.

How to Use Alumnus

Alumnus is the masculine singular form. It is generally reserved for an individual male graduate, former student, member, or contributor of an educational institution.

For example:

  • The BU alumnus, Randy Myron, was the runner-up to the local magazine’s best dress man of the year.

How to Use Alumnae

Alumnae is the feminine plural form and is used to describe a group of female graduates, former students, contributors, and members of an educational institution.

For example,

  • The All Women’s Annual Soccer Kick-Off was held the second week of June and included all alumnae of the county girls’ schools from the last eight years.

Alternative Terms

Keeping the gendered forms of alumnus straight can be downright confusing and frustrating. Because of this, many people in these modern times have begun to use alternative, unspecified gender forms – alum and alums. Alum, singular, and alums, plural, should be left for informal writing scenarios only but can help you avoid Latin, gendered confusion.

Let’s Review

Alumnus is derived from a Latin word used to describe a child raised in foster. It became popular to use it as a description of educational graduates, and by the 17th Century, it was officially used in Alumni Association gatherings.

Due to its Latin origin, it has singular and plural masculine and feminine forms:

  • Alumni is plural for a group of male graduates or a group of both male and female graduates.
  • Alumnus is singular for a male graduate.
  • Alumna is singular for a female graduate.
  • Alumnae is plural for female graduates.

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