Alumnus, Alumni, Alumna, and Alumnae: What’s the Difference?

Most of us know the word “alumni.” We hear it spoken every year at graduations, in commencement addresses, and at open houses.

But not everyone is familiar with how to use the term precisely so as to distinguish it from words like “alumnus” or “alumnae.” In fact, many people have never heard of these other words, so, in this post, we’ll highlight the differences between all of them.

When to Use Alumnus

What does alumnus mean? Alumnus is a Latin word meaning a male graduate or former student of a school, college, or university. This word is for a singular male graduate. For example,

  • My brother is an alumnus of the University of Michigan.

When to Use Alumni

Alumni-vs-alumnusWhat does alumni mean? Alumni is the plural form of alumnus, meaning a group of male graduates or former students of a school.

Alumni is used in conjunction with either men’s colleges or a group of male graduates, but many coeducational colleges and universities also choose to use “alumni” when referring to graduating classes of both sexes.

It is important to note that alumni can mean either only male graduates or male and female graduates, but it cannot mean only female graduates.

When to Use Alumna

What does alumna mean? Alumna is also a Latin word, meaning, a woman graduate or former student of a school, college, or university. This word is for a singular female graduate. For example,

  • My sister is an alumna of the University of Michigan.

When to Use Alumnae

What does alumnae mean? Alumnae is the plural form of alumna, meaning a group of woman graduates or former students of a school.

Alumnae would, therefore, be used in conjunction with either women’s colleges or a group of woman students.

This is also in accordance with AP Style, which uses alumnus for a man who has attended a school, alumna for a woman, and alumni for a group of men and women.

So, when you hear someone saying that he or she is an alumni of a college or university what they really mean to say is that they are either an alumnus or an alumna. An individual can, however, be a member of an alumni group; they just cannot be the sole member.

Summary

To sum up,

  • Alumnus is used to refer to a male graduate or former student.
  • Alumni is the plural of alumnus but can also be used to refer to a group of men and woman graduates/former students.
  • Alumna is used to refer to a woman graduate or former student.
  • Alumnae is the plural of alumna.

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