Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Alumni and Alumnus

Difference Between Alumni and Alumnus

Most people who have graduated from their respective colleges and universities often refer to themselves as an ‘alumni’. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, the term ‘alumni’ is actually the plural form of the word that should be used in this situation. Secondly, it is ironic how people manage to graduate from college without knowing the proper usage of ‘alumni’ along its singular form – ‘alumnus’.

As any dictionary will tell us, an alumnus is ‘a graduate of a school, college, or university’. The term is derived from the Latin word that literally means ‘foster son or pupil’. Alumnus is considered as the masculine, singular noun form; this means that it pertains specifically to a male graduate of an educational institution. In some cases, it is shortened to ‘alum’, which could at the same time refer to the female counterpart – ‘alumna’. In some countries, however, the terms are simplified to eliminate noun gender confusion. For instance, the term ‘old boy’ is used in the United Kingdom, some parts of Canada and Australia, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. Other terminologies include gender-neutral terms such as ‘old scholar’, ‘former cadet’, ‘old corps’, ‘former pupil’, ‘former student’, or ‘member of the old brigade’.

The most widely used variation –‘alumni’, on the other hand, is simply the plural form of ‘alumnus’. Apparently, it’s also the most inappropriately used. Strictly speaking, the term ‘alumni’ refers to more than one male graduate of an educational institution. The correct usage is ‘he is an alumnus’ and ‘he and David are alumni’. Here’s the tricky part, though – based on grammatical rules, ‘alumni’ can also be used to refer to a group of people composed of both males and females. In fact, the term is still applicable even when there’s only one male in the group. Moreover, to avoid possible confusion, some use the phrase ‘the alumni/alumnae’ where ‘alumnae’ is the plural form of female graduates.

To further differentiate ‘alumnus’ from ‘alumni’, here is a set of examples. ‘John, an alumnus of Harvard University, is now a multimillionaire automobile trader. He and his business partner, Chuck, are alumni of Stanford Graduate School. John’s wife, his sister, and his brother are alumni of Stanford University. Chuck’s son wants to be a proud alumnus of his father’s Alma Matter.’ Another example: ‘The alumni of West Bon Temp High School will be having a grand reunion next Saturday. A random alumnus commented that it’s going to be a waste of time. Conversely, two alumni, who will be husband and wife soon, thought it would be a fun and wild event, something that shouldn’t be missed. Most alumni of the said school are notorious for leading a rebellious, care-free life. By far, only one alumnus has managed to establish a respectable stature in America; he’s now living it large by writing novels about vampires.’ As evident from these examples, ‘alumnus’ is only appropriate when referring to a singular male. ‘Alumni’ is used as the plural term for an all-male group or a mixed group.


  1. ‘Alumnus’ is defined as ‘a graduate of a school, college, or university.’ It is a singular and masculine noun. ‘Alumni’ is its plural form. Never use the phrase ‘I am an alumni’¦’ it is incorrect.
  2. ‘Alumni’ is not always purely masculine. It is also accepted as a term for a male-female group of former students.
  3. Other less confusing alternatives for the term ‘alumni’ are: ‘old scholar’, ‘former cadet’, ‘old corps’, ‘former pupil’, ‘former student’, and ‘member of the old brigade’.

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  1. Alumni needn’t be graduates; they may be referred to as alumni once they had been enrolled and had attended the institution.

  2. Whilst my alma matters, if only to me, it’s not where I went to school. That was my alma mater ;-))

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