Alumna, alumnae, alumni, alumnus

  • Alumni is a plural noun referring either to a group 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. These Latin loanwords preserve their original plural forms, and incorrect use of the words abounds because many speakers of English are understandably unfamiliar with the genders and plurals of Latin nouns.


    If you have trouble keeping track of them all, one alternative is to use alum and alums. These increasingly appear as replacements for the traditional words—though they may be considered out of place in formal contexts—and they have the extra virtue of being ungendered and hence unconfusing.


    These writers use the Latin forms correctly:


    Durkee is one of 31 gay and lesbian Westmont alumni who earlier this month roiled the Christian college in Montecito with an open letter in the college newspaper. [Los Angeles Times]

    ast month the Sonoma Valley High School girls’ basketball and volleyball programs held their second annual, and enjoyable, alumnae doubleheader in Pfeiffer Gym. [Sonoma News]

    Rundle College alumnus Aaron Goodarzi can’t say enough about the advantages of independent schooling. [Calgary Herald]

    Berklee alumna and faculty member Daniela Schächter will also give a guest performance. [Boston Globe]

    And these writers opt to use the modern shortened forms:

    The designer of the new Cowboys Stadium is an alum of Skyline’s architecture program. [Dallas Morning News]

    He’s talented, but if he’s to add his name to an illustrious list of Hopeful alums who have gone on to classic success, he’ll have to buck some more recent history. [The Saratogian]


    1. Brilliant!

    2. Kristen Humphrey says

      I think the use of alum and alums is patently incorrect and serves only to add to the confusion for those lacking some Latin education. (They are made up, dumbed-down terms that should no more be acceptable usages than “nucular” should be an acceptable pronunciation of nuclear!)

      • Bob_Collins says

        I agree, and can we dispense with the created verb architect? In the IT world the phrase ‘… to acrchitect ..’ or ‘… the system was re-architected to …’

      • Is there a gender neutral singular version? If not, I’m going with alum.

        • I would have thought that the male singular form could be used as the gender-neutral singular form. That would be consistent with other typical gender forms in Latin languages, but as you notice, the article doesn’t say.

        • Michelle Morgan Martin says

          alumnus – I’ve read elsewhere that this is acceptable and most people don’t know the difference anyway. Just whatever, please don’t refer to a singular person as an alumni. Drives me nuts. :)

      • Nancy Irwin says

        made up umbed-down? really? have you studied Latin?d

      • We should also eschew “stadiums” for “stadia”

    3. Description fails to show how to describe more than one group of alumni. As written it only says “alumni” is “a group”. What do we call multiple groups?

    4. Just learn to use the right word. Don’t contribute to the dumbing down of English by being lazy and using “alum”

      • Dillon Allen says

        I suppose this is being a context Nazi rather than a grammar Nazi… but I believe this is a discussion on the dumbing down of Latin usage, not English. :)

        • thanatos8285 says

          Nope, not really. Latin words, but their usage in the English language. It’s being suggested to use the lazier and dumber “alum” in place of the proper term, not to abolish the correct term and replace it completely.

    5. Nancy Irwin says

      Sorry Kristen, I misread your post….you DO understand Latin….I responded incorrectly and now cannot edit it out!!!! :(

    6. Huntsvillecoalition 4Democracy says

      How would one say he is a fellow alumni?

    7. Sohan Dsouza says

      I agree with not using “alumni” for the singular form, but why even use Latin grammar? Grammar is not imported for loanwords from Semitic or Indic languages. It also seems to me that only English speakers have this obsession with using Latin grammar. Since we now have the option of using “alum”/”alums”, we should use it. At least the contributes to the eventual decline of semantically pointless artifacts like gender in the language.

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