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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 Illinois. Alma Mater Restored 2014.jpg
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 Illinois.

An alumnus ( Latin pronunciation:  [aˈlʊmnʊs] ; masculine) or an alumna ( [aˈlʊmna] ; feminine) of a college, university, or other school is a former student who has either attended or graduated in some fashion from the institution. The word is Latin and simply means student. The plural is alumni [aˈlʊmniː] for men and mixed groups and alumnae [aˈlʊmnae̯] for women. The term is not synonymous with "graduate"; one can be an alumnus without graduating (Burt Reynolds, alumnus but not graduate of Florida State, is an example). The term is sometimes used to refer to a former employee or member of an organization, contributor, or inmate. [1] [2] [3]



The Latin noun alumnus means "foster son" or "pupil". It is derived from PIE *h₂el- (grow, nourish), and is closely related to the Latin verb alo "to nourish". [4] 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.

In Latin, alumnus is a legal term (Roman law) to describe a child placed in fosterage. [5] According to John Boswell, the word "is nowhere defined in relation to status, privilege, or obligation." [6] 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." [7]


An alumnus or alumna is a former student and most often a graduate of an educational institution (school, college, university). [8] According to the United States Department of Education, the term alumnae is used in conjunction with either women's colleges [9] 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. [10]

The term is sometimes informally shortened to "alum" (optional plural "alums"). [11]

Alumni reunions are popular events at many institutions. They are usually organized by alumni associations and are often social occasions for fundraising.

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  1. "The State Of Corporate Alumni : 2017 Survey Results". EnterpriseAlumni - Large Organization Alumni & Retiree Management. 2017-10-02. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  2. "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
  3. "Alumnus – definition of alumnus by Macmillan dictionary". Retrieved 2011-02-15. Someone who was a student at a particular school, college, or university
  4. Merriam-Webster: alumnus...
  5. For example, Digest 40, 2, 14
  6. Boswell 1988, pp. 116.
  7. Boswell 1988, pp. 117–119.
  8. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  9. "Archived: Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges". Archived from the original on 2006-08-15. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  10. "alumni – Definitions from". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  11. "alum." Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006. 1 December 2006.