Curricula vs. Curriculum: Same Concept, Different Workload

Many academic words (including the word academic) are influenced by Latin vocabulary and grammar, so it's helpful to know the basics. The words curricula and curriculum are two such examples — their meanings are similar, but their Latin endings make all the difference.

Curricula - Pile of Textbooks vs Curriculum - History Textbook Curricula - Pile of Textbooks vs Curriculum - History Textbook
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Telling Curricula vs. Curriculum Apart

Curricula and curriculum describe a course of study or a set of lesson plans designed by a teacher. However, there is a key difference between these words.

  • curriculum - a course of study
  • curricula - more than one course of study

Like other Latin nouns that end in -um, curriculum becomes curricula when used as a plural noun. For example, a history teacher may design a specific curriculum for her American History class. But when she has also designed the curriculum for her British History class, she has created a set of curricula.

Their Literal Origin

If planning curricula for the year feels like a race to the finish, you're not too far off! The words curricula and curriculum come from the Latin word for another type of course: a running course used in races. In fact, its root is the verb currere ("to run"). It wasn't until the early 19th century that curricula and curriculum were used to describe a course of study rather than a literal racing course.

Curriculum Meaning: A Course of Study

The word curriculum describes a set of lessons, assessments, assignments, materials, and readings included in a single course of study. For example:

  • Have you finished writing the math curriculum for 11th grade?
  • Our department designed a standards-aligned curriculum in every subject.
  • The typical language arts curriculum in kindergarten includes phonics, sight words and handwriting practice.
  • The school board approved a new curriculum that integrates 21st-century skills into the classroom.
  • Mrs. Hart's biology curriculum is so fun and engaging that students don't even know they're learning.

Curricula Meaning: Multiple Courses of Study

The plural form of curriculum is curricula. It's typically used to compare different courses of study, or to emphasize that a school has more than one curriculum. For example:

  • Before you declare your university major, there are a variety of curricula available for you to learn.
  • Let's plan our 3rd grade and 4th grade curricula together so that we don't teach the same topics.
  • A student teacher has a collection of curricula by the time they finish their teaching program.
  • When you teach five different classes, you'll need to master five different curricula as well.
  • Do you have experience creating curricula for every elementary reading level?
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What About Curriculums?

You may have heard the plural form of curriculum as curriculums. You're not wrong — while curricula is slightly more popular than curriculums, both words are applicable. However, in formal academic settings, it's advisable to use curricula when describing multiple sets of curriculum.

Curriculum Vitae vs. Curricula Vitae

Curriculum also appears in the phrase curriculum vitae, which means "the course of one's life" and refers to a document that lists your career accomplishments and work experiences. It's often abbreviated as a CV and is similar to a modern-day resume. Its plural form is curricula vitae, which would refer to multiple CVs. For example:

  • I submitted my curriculum vitae to the hiring manager this afternoon.
  • The hiring manager received over 100 curricula vitae in just a few days.

Understanding the Root of Grammar

Even if you're not a Latin teacher, having a general idea of how Latin works in English can help you quite a bit. After all, planning a single set of curriculum is much different than planning a series of curricula! If you need some guidance on planning a high-quality curriculum, check out a few lesson plan templates to ensure your students meet their objectives. And for more examples of plural Latin nouns found in everyday English, check out a guide to phenomenon vs. phenomena.