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Kirk Mahoney . com

“Alumnus” vs. “Alumna” vs. “Alumni” vs. “Alumnae”

I thought about these nouns after seeing what I considered to be a misuse of one of them the other day.

Problem:
Many people are confused about which noun to use for which group of people.

Explanation:
My wife received in the mail two days ago a publication by her undergraduate and graduate-school alma mater.

The publication had a page devoted to one of its graduates.

The graduate was a woman, and the title on the page was “Alumni Profile” followed by her name.

I consider “Alumni” in the title to be inappropriate. I would have used “Alumna” instead. Here is the explanation.

The noun “alumnus” means a male graduate or former student of a particular university, college, or school.

The noun “alumna” means a female graduate or former student of a particular university, college, or school.

The noun “alumni” means male graduates or former students of a particular university, college, or school.

The noun “alumnae” means female graduates or former students of a particular university, college, or school.

Many colleges and universities use “alumni” to refer to males and females. This is analogous to the use of the masculine plural form in Spanish when referring to a group of only males or to a group of males and females.

Historically female colleges and universities that now accept males take a different tack: they use “alumnae and alumni” or “alumnae/i” to refer to their collective group of female and male graduates.

Solution:
Use “alumna” for a woman. Use “alumnae” for a group of women. Use “alumnus” for a man. Use “alumni” for a group of men or for a group of men and women. Never call an individual “an alumni” of a school, college, or university.

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