Alumni vs. Alumnus: Refer to Graduates the Right Way

Congratulations! You've just graduated and are ready for the next step in your life. But are you now an alumni or an alumnus of your previous school? Learn how to describe your educational journey in a grammatically correct way.

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What Do Alumni and Alumnus Mean?

The Latin word alumnus means "former pupil" or "former student." Following standard Latin conjugation, alumni is the plural form of alumnus — "more than one student."

So why do people use these words to describe students who have already graduated or left the school? Alumnus comes from the Latin root al-, meaning "to grow or nourish." Alumnus, therefore, means "one who was nourished" — in this case, by their school.

Alumnus Meaning: A Former Student

Even though the word alumnus ends with an "s," it's singular, not plural. Traditionally, the word alumnus refers to a male student who has graduated from a school. Examples of alumnus in a sentence include:

  • Jerry is an alumnus of Duke University.
  • My grandfather was an alumnus of the same school I attend.
  • Is Mr. Byron an alumnus of Peterson High School?
  • My manager's son is an alumnus of my rival college.
  • Theodore Roosevelt was an alumnus of Harvard University.

Alumni Meaning: More Than One Former Student

When you refer to alumni of a school, you're referring to more than one former student. The phrase "an alumni" is incorrect, just as "an students" would always be incorrect. Alumni is always plural.

As with most Latin nouns in the plural form, alumni can describe a group of male graduates or a group of graduates of different genders. For example:

  • Marie, Franco and Nathan are all alumni of Yale.
  • My parents were well-known alumni of Cal State Northridge.
  • There's a reception for alumni at the college this weekend.
  • Many famous alumni have walked these university halls.
  • Our school's employment office has a large hiring network available for alumni.

Alumnus vs. Alumna

Because Latin is a gender-based language, it uses alumna to describe a female graduate (plural alumnae). While the gender-neutral term alum (and in some schools, alumnx) can include graduates of all genders, the words alumna and alumnae only describe former female students. For example:

  • Charlotte is a famous alumna of Mills College.
  • My sisters are both alumnae of the local community college.
  • Stacy met Paula, a fellow alumna of Griffith High School, at a party this weekend.
  • My great-grandmother was one of the first alumnae of her university.
  • Our newest employee is a recent alumna of Stanford University.
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What Does Alma Mater Mean?

You may have heard the phrase "alma mater" to describe a school you once attended. But did you know that it shares a Latin root with alumnus, alumni, alumna, and alumnae? "Alma mater" means "nourishing mother" in Latin. If alumni and alumnae are the "nourished ones," their school is considered the mother that helped them to develop and grow.

Can You Be an Alumnus if You Don't Graduate?

There is some debate on whether the term alumnus (or alumni) refers only to students who completed a degree. Because the definitions of both alumnus and alumni include the term "former students" they could include students who attended a school but did not graduate. (Some schools have specific guidelines on when you can consider yourself an alumnus or alumna.)

Nourish Your Vocabulary

Whether you're a recent alumnus of your local high school or part of a group of accomplished alumni from the Ivy League, it's important to describe yourself accurately. Understanding these tricky Latin roots and how they contribute to English is a major part of improving your vocabulary. Clear up more Latin-to-English misunderstandings with a study on calvary vs. cavalry.