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Alumnus vs. Alumni

Alumnus and alumni are Latin terms, which are chiefly used to denote a person or group of people who have previously attended or graduated from a college or school. In practice, the terms are often used for graduates of the school and not just those who attended, but according to most dictionaries, the terms can be used for attendees as well as grads.
  • Though I attended the University of Maine, I am an alumnus of the University of Florida.
In short, alumnus means former pupil and alumni means former pupils, but there are some rules around the usage that can lead to confusion. Latin terms are popular when referencing colleges and universities. You will often hear the term alma mater, which literally means nourishing mother, as a way of referring to the school, university or college that a person formerly attended.
  • My sister’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, won the Rose Bowl two years in a row, and then wrote to all former students asking for donations.

Alumnus vs Alumni What is the Difference?

  Alumnus is used to denote a male former pupil of a college or school. For example:
  • My brother is an alumnus of Harvard University.
Alumni is the plural of alumnus, so it is used to denote a group of male former pupils of a college or school. For example:
  • James, John and David are Yale alumni, having graduated together in 1997.
In addition, alumni is also used as a term to denote a group of former pupils of mixed gender, i.e. male and female former pupils. However, alumni should not be used for a group of exclusively female pupils, as in Latin, nouns are differentiated by gender. For example,
  • Cameron Diaz and Snoop Dogg were friends as teenagers; they are both alumni of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, California, but my friends Susie and Anne are both alumnae of Central High School.
What are Alumnus, Alumni, Alumna, Alum and Alumnae?   As you have seen, these Latin terms used to denote former pupils are gender specific. Below is an overview of the definitions:
  • Alumnus = a male former pupil of a school, college or university.
  • Alumni = the plural of alumnus, used to refer to a group of male former students or a group of male and female former students.
  • Alumna = a female former pupil of a school, college or university.
  • Alumnae = the plural of alumna, used to refer to a group of female former students.
In addition to these terms, you may also come across the words alum and alums. These are shortened versions of the words above, which have entered into common usage as slang. Alum and its plural, alums, can refer to pupils of either gender. While they are informal terms, they are accepted by several major style guides.
  • Alum = a former pupil of any gender.
  • Alums = former pupils of any gender.

When to Use Alumni?

Use alumni when referring to a group of only males, or group of men and women, in relation to their former school or college.
  • Jeff Bezos and Michelle Obama are among Princeton’s famous alumni.

When to Use Alumnus?

  Use alumnus when referring to an individual male in relation to his former school or college.
  • My dad is an alumnus of Oxford University, although he attended high school in the United States.

When to Use Alumna?

Use alumna when referring to an individual female in relation to her former school or college.
  • Helen is an alumna of both UCLA and Columbia.

When to Use Alumnae?

Use alumnae when referring to a group of females in reference to their former school or college.
  • A 20-year reunion celebration will be held in September for alumnae of Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, Connecticut.

When to Use Alum or Alums?

Use alums or alum when referring to a single person or a group of any gender in reference to their former school or college.
  • The reunion at the Geiger’s house was awesome as most of the alums came to celebrate. Gail brought her husband even though he wasn’t an alum of the school.

Other Uses of Alumni and Alumnus

Additionally, and a little less common than when referring to schools, alumnus and all its variants can be used to describe someone who has participated in a group, club, or team.
  • We measure the quality of the City Ballet by the accomplishments of our alumni.
  • Alumnae are important partners in the continued success of the Girls Club.
  • As an alum of Ottawa Hill Scouts, Betsy is always welcome to attend our events.