Attention all alumni

While chatting with a fellow last night, I learned that he was “an alumni of Cal Poly.”

The problem is that he’s not an alumni. He’s an alumnus.

This is a problem word, one used almost universally incorrectly in our society. It’s also an important word because it affects most of us. It’s important that we not sound like we didn’t learn about grammar when we use the word for a person who attended a school, or participated in a training program, or did something with a group of people.

In English we seldom conjugate nouns, or perhaps it’s better to say that we don’t have declensions for words in our language. There are some exceptions.

Data is almost always accepted as either singular or plural these days. The correct way to use it is singular: datum, plural: data. But, face it, this just sounds funny. So, we all cave and use data incorrectly… the word, not the actual numerical information.

Forum is another one. It’s singular noun. Its plural form is fora, which is so obscure that it is almost never heard, and when it is, you do a double-take to be sure you heard it right. I attended several fora this last week. Eek!

But alumni/us/a/ae is a an important word, still, and we must all learn it correctly so that we don’t sound undereducated.

Here is the way to do it:

Men: singularly, you an alumnus; plurally you and your colleagues are alumni.

Women: singularly, you an alumna; plurally you are alumnae.

Mixed gender: plurally you are alumni.

That’s it.

And, next time you are bragging about being an alumni of the class of ought-six, you can get it right.

Download a chart of the alumni conjugations here.

I will write about criteria on another occasion.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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