Alumni (sg.: alumnus (MASC) or alumna (FEM)) are former students or graduates of a school, college, or university. The feminine plural alumnae is sometimes used for groups of women, and alums (sg.: alum) or alumns (sg.: alumn) as gender-neutral alternatives. The word comes from Latin, meaning nurslings, pupils or foster children, derived from alere "to nourish".[1]

The Latin noun alumnus means "foster son" or "pupil" and is derived from the verb alere "to nourish". B Pictured: Lorado Taft's Alma Mater in Urbana, Illinois.

The term is not synonymous with "graduates": people can be alumni without graduating (Burt Reynolds, alumnus but not graduate of Florida State University, is an example). The term is sometimes used to refer to former employees, former members of an organization, former contributors, or former inmates.[2][3][4]



The Latin noun alumnus means "foster son" or "pupil". It is derived from the Latin verb alere "to nourish".[5] Separate, but from the same root, is the adjective almus "nourishing", found in the phrase alma mater, a title for a person's home university.[6]

alumnus alumna alumni alumnae
English /əˈlʌmnəs/
/əˈlʌmn/ -⁠nee,
also US: /-n/ -⁠nye
Latin (Classical) [aˈlʊmnʊs] [aˈlʊmna] [aˈlʊmniː] [aˈlʊmnae̯]
Latin (Ecclesiastical) [aˈlumnus] [aˈlumna] [aˈlumni] [aˈlumne]

Usage in Roman law


In Latin, alumnus is a legal term (Roman law) to describe a child placed in fosterage.[9] According to John Boswell, the word "is nowhere defined in relation to status, privilege, or obligation."[10] Citing the research of Henri Leclercq, Teresa Nani, and Beryl Rawson, who studied the many inscriptions about alumni, Boswell concluded that it referred to exposed children who were taken into a household where they were "regarded as somewhere between an heir and a slave, partaking in different ways of both categories." Despite the warmth of feelings between the parent and child, "an alumnus might be treated both as a beloved child and as a household servant."[11]



An alumnus or alumna is a former student or a graduate of an educational institution (school, college, university).[12] According to the United States Department of Education, the term alumnae is used in conjunction with either women's colleges[13] or a female group of students. The term alumni is used in conjunction with either men's colleges, a male group of students, or a mixed group of students:

In accordance with the rules of grammar governing the inflexion of nouns in the Romance languages, the masculine plural alumni is correctly used for groups composed of both sexes: the alumni of Princeton University.[14]

The term is sometimes informally shortened to "alum" (optional plural "alums").[15] This is increasingly being used more formally as a gender-neutral alternative.[5] However, and for this latter purpose, the option "alumn" and "alumns" are also used in some institutions in Australia, Europe and the UK. [16]

The words "alum/alums" and "alumn/alumns" (pronounced with a silent "n") are both pronounced with the accent on the second syllable (al-UM), as opposed to the chemical compound alum and its plural, "alums" (pron. AL-um).[17]

Many universities have alumni offices that coordinate fundraising and offer benefits to registered alumni. Alumni reunions are popular events at many institutions. These may be organized by alumni offices or by alumni associations, and are often social occasions for fundraising. Full membership of alumni associations is sometimes limited just to graduates rather than all alumni, e.g. at Harvard University.[18] Universities with validation agreements may limit some alumni benefits to graduates who studied at that university rather than at validated institutions.[19]

In British English, the terms "old boy" or "old girl" are often preferred for a former pupil of a primary or secondary school, while universities refer to their former students as alumni.[20][21]

Some universities, including the University of Cambridge, the University of California, San Francisco and Yale University, include former postdoctoral researchers as alumni, in recognition of the trainee status of such positions.[22][23][24] Others, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consider them 'associate alumni', without full access to alumni benefits.[25]

See also



  1. ^ "Alumnus". Collins dictionary. Retrieved 4 December 2023. C17: from Latin: nursling, pupil, foster son, from alere to nourish
  2. ^ "The State Of Corporate Alumni : 2017 Survey Results". EnterpriseAlumni. 2017-10-02. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  3. ^ "Alumni – Definition from the Free Merriam Webster Dictionary". 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2011-02-15. 1: A person who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university. 2: a person who is a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate
  4. ^ "Alumnus – definition of alumnus by Macmillan dictionary". Retrieved 2011-02-15. Someone who was a student at a particular school, college, or university
  5. ^ a b "alumnus". Dictionary. Retrieved 5 December 2023.
  6. ^ John Ayto (1 January 2009). Word Origins. A&C Black. p. 41. ISBN 9781408101605.
  7. ^ Collins English Dictionary (13th ed.). HarperCollins. 2018. ISBN 978-0-008-28437-4.
  8. ^ "alumna". Dictionary. Retrieved 2022-05-15.
  9. ^ For example, Digest 40, 2, 14
  10. ^ Boswell 1988, pp. 116.
  11. ^ Boswell 1988, pp. 117–119.
  12. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  13. ^ "Archived: Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges". Archived from the original on 2006-08-15. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  14. ^ "alumni – Definitions from". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  15. ^ " | Meanings & Definitions of English Words". Retrieved 2024-05-08.
  16. ^ Accessed 22/03/2023: Australia: Europe & UK: America: (Alumn of the Year)
  17. ^ "alum". Cambridge dictionary
  18. ^ "About the Harvard Alumni Association". Harvard Alumni Association. Retrieved 17 August 2023. Members of the HAA include recipients of all degrees granted by the University and Radcliffe College, as well as the members of all University faculties. Others whose names appear on the alumni records of the University, but who have not received degrees, are associate members and program participants. They may attend meetings and take part in any activities of the HAA but may not vote for Overseers of the University or directors of the HAA.
  19. ^ "Alumni Fee Scholarship 2024-25". Durham University. Eligibility. Retrieved 5 December 2023.
  20. ^ "old boy - noun". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  21. ^ "old girl - noun". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  22. ^ "Alumni benefits extended to thousands of former researchers". University of Cambridge. 10 June 2015.
  23. ^ "Alumni". UCSF Office for Postdoctoral Scholars. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  24. ^ "Leaving Yale". Yale University Office for Postdoctoral Affairs. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  25. ^ Hazel Sive; Claude Canizares; Maria Zuber (November 2013). "The Status of MIT's Postdoctoral Researchers". MIT Faculty Newsletter. Vol. XXVI, no. 2.


  • Boswell, John (1988). The Kindness of Strangers:The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. New York: Pantheon. ISBN 9780226067124.
  •   The dictionary definition of alumni at Wiktionary