Alum/Alumni/Alumnus: What’s the Difference?

Any time you receive messages from your alma mater or an alumni network, you might happen across different forms of the word “alumnus.” For example: “alumni,” “alum,” “alumnae,” or “alumna.” 

Each of these forms of the word is used to describe a graduate or group of graduates. But what’s the difference between them, and when is the proper time to use each one? And why might you see different forms of the word in a single message from your alma mater?

Here’s a quick and helpful overview for you to reference.


The word “alumni” is probably the most frequently used word to describe graduates. It is a plural noun, referring to a collection of graduates. You might say, for example, “John and Jane are alumni of George Washington High School.”


The word “alumnus” refers to a single male graduate of an institution. A group of male graduates would be referred to as “alumni.” You might say, “Joe is an alumnus of the University of Michigan.”


Just as “alumnus” is used to refer to an individual male graduate, the word “alumna” is used to refer to an individual female graduate. You might say, “Katie is an alumna of Springfield High School.”


The word “alumnae” is used to refer to a group of female graduates. Compare this to “alumni,” which is used for groups of male graduates, or groups comprising both male and female graduates. You might say, “Ashley, Susan, and Lindsay are alumnae of the University of Tennessee.”


The word “alum” is meant to be a more informal reference to an individual male or female graduate. This is a helpful word to use in informal communications when you might frequently forget the above rules! In addition, you can also use the plural “alums” to informally refer to a group of any male, female or mixed graduates. Again, this word is only meant for casual conversation and communications. Grammar and etiquette experts suggest using the above proper Latin words in professional or formal settings, such as in invitations, at graduation ceremonies, on resumes and at awards banquets.

Regardless of what you call the group, the most important thing is that we are all proud alumni of Madison public schools! But we hope you find this a helpful language guide any time you see these words moving forward.

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