Grammar Chaos: The Four Graduates of the English Language

Posted on Jun 07, 2017

We know what alumni is, but did you know that there’s more than one way to say it?

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, here are some reminders. English is a Romance language, which means it has origins in Latin. However, because of its sheer landmass and the diversity of the language’s speakers, English has also taken influences from other cultures. Though Latin plays a big role in the formation of the English language, it is not entirely bound by the rules of Latin grammar.

Alumni, Alumnus, Alumna, Alumnae

We all know what alumni is. Alumni are people who have graduated from an institution. We hear it most in graduations, reunions, fund-raisers, etc. Not everyone knows about its siblings.

The word alumni is in the plural form, the singular of which is alumnus. Alumnus specifically means a male who has graduated from a college or university.

  1. My father and grandfather are alumni of Oxford University.

  2. My brother is an alumnus of Harvard University.

The even lesser-known alumna, on the other hand, is the term for a female graduate of a college or university. The plural form is alumnae.

  1. My mother and grandmother are alumnae of Stanford University.

  2. My sister is an alumna of Cambridge University.

From how these words are pluralized, we can see that they are Latin. While all four terms are generally accepted in the English language, the latter three are less popular. However, unlike other Romance languages, nonperson words in English are not gendered. This is why alumni is a lot more popular than the rest. The word alumni is often used to refer to the combined graduates of a college or university. Alumni is also used when the gender of the subject is unspecified.

  1. The members of my family are alumni of top universities.

  2. I am part of the MIT alumni.

To recap: alumnus and alumni mean male graduates. Alumna and alumnae mean female graduates. Easy enough.

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