The Differences in Alum, Alumni, Alumnus, and Alumnae

There is perhaps no more commonly used Latinate term in modern society than alumni and its variants. Unless you are incredibly well-versed in the dead language of the Romans,

Masculine and Feminine, Singular and Plural

Here is a topline explanation with this group of Latin nouns:

  • A male graduate of an institution is an alumnus (masculine singular).
  • Multiple male graduates are alumni (masculine plural).
  • A female graduate of an institution is an alumna (feminine singular).
  • Multiple female graduates are alumnae (feminine plural).
  • For a group of multiple graduates that includes both males and females, you would default to

That is the breakdown of proper Latin variants for the noun. Its usage on contemporary campuses is another matter altogether.

Alumni on Campus

Most higher education institutions have an Office of Alumni Affairs. This department maintains communication with former students and holds events and programming.

Often, these offices default to the masculine form: alumnus and alumni. This choice is meant to simplify their wording to avoid confusion. On the other hand, many all-woman institutions like Smith College have an Office of Alumnae. It makes sense for them to default to 100% feminine nouns when discussing former students.

What is Alum?

You often hear people refer to alums in discussions of former students.

The terms alum and alums are informal. They are perfectly fine for day-to-day conversation, but you should not use them in formal writing. Always write out the correct form the full Latin expression with writing about alumni (or alumnae).

Related: Ever wondered what is the difference between Thou and Thee?  Find out here!


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