'Alum' Versus 'Alumni'

Alumnus, alumna, alumni, and alumnus are all from Latin. They're hard enough to remember, but then you also have to contend with alums versus alumni for mixed groups of graduates.

Mignon Fogarty,
October 14, 2016

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You’ll remember that a couple of weeks ago, I had a piece from Neal Whitman about homecoming being called HoCo, and Neal was also kind enough to point out that although I wrote about the words alum and alumni in some of my Grammar Girl books, I’ve never covered them on the podcast or on the website, and this would be a good time of year to do so… because alumni go to homecoming. Or should that be alums go to homecoming?

First, let’s deal with the singular forms.

‘Alumnus’ and ‘Alumna’

As you may have guessed, these words to describe graduates come straight from Latin. 

A lone female graduate is called an alumna. So I am an alumna of the University of Washington in Seattle and an alumna of Stanford University. A lone male graduate is called an alumnus. 

Alumnus means "foster son," "pupil," or "to nourish" in Latin. The Latin term for a former school is alma mater, meaning "nourishing mother"; therefore, an alumnus can be seen as the foster son (pupil) of the nourishing mother (the school). Nice, huh?

Now let’s get to the plurals.


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