Make Your Editor Cry: Alum, Alumnus, Alumni, Alumna, Alumnae

Make Your Editor Cry:  Alum, Alumnus, Alumni, Alumna, Alumnae

The Latin forms of alum basically mean student, disciple, or pupil. In modern parlance, to say that you are an alum of a particular school is to say that you previously matriculated there (Medieval Latin matriculatus, past participle of matriculare, from Late Latin matricula).

The Latin word alumna is specifically female gendered and singular while the word alumnae is specifically female gendered and plural.

The Latin word alumnus is specifically male gendered and singular while the word alumni is specifically male gendered and plural.

Recently, it has become popular to use the male gendered terms as suitable unisex terms in the same way that the male gendered pronouns in English (he, his, him, man, mankind, etc.) are considered unbiased unisex terms. Thus my daughter who graduated from the University of Kentucky could either formally describe herself as an alumna or informally and correctly as an alumnus, properly using either singular form of the word.

However, she could not accurately describe herself as either an alumnae or an alumni because she is only one person, singular. She could describe how great it was to catch up with her fellow alumnae (if there were only women present) or alumni (all men or a mix of men and women present) at a recent fund-raising event, but she is personally not plural so she would not use those plural terms to describe her singular self and risk bringing shame to her alma mater. (By the way, alma mater is Latin for foster mother.)

These days It is fairly safe to avoid the whole problem by resorting to the very informal alum abbreviation. But take caution there, as well. Trying to make that abbreviation plural by adding the English S to the end of that Latin roots word and verbalizing the hybrid word “alums” would probably annoy a number of purists.

Examples:

Incorrect:

She is an alumnae of State College.
He is am an alumni of State College.
They are all alumna of State College.
They are all alumnus of State College.
They are all alums of State College.

Correct:

She is an alumna of State College.
He is an alumnus of State College.
Those women are all alumnae of State College.
Those men are all alumni of State College.
Those men and women are all alumni of State College.

Also Considered Correct:

She is an alumnus of State College.
She is an alum of State College.
He is an alum of State College.
They are all alum of State College.

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