What’s up with “alumnus,” “alumna,” “alumni,” and “alumnae”?

Using “alumni” for everything will make you—and your alma mater—look dumb.

Let’s imagine that you are about to graduate from college. Naturally, you’re excited about buying a license plate frame for your car to express your pride in your alma mater.

But don’t rush into buying any license plate frame: make sure that you don’t embarrass yourself and your school by purchasing the wrong one!

Before you grab the coolest looking “Alumni — (Name of School)” license plate frame, ask yourself the all-important question: Am I an alumnus, alumni, alumna, or alumnae? (Many people have never even heard of the last two; therefore, very few companies even make such license plate frames. We happened to spot one such plate in the wild.)

If Latin isn’t your strong suit, keep reading. The last thing you want to do—besides adorning your car with the wrong license plate frame—is to say, “I’m an alumni of (name of school).” Trust us: the person who hears you utter those words will silently judge you.

Here’s how to differentiate those tricky terms:

So far, so good. We’ve taken care of the singular forms.

Collectively, Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt), Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13), Kate and Laura Mulleavy (@OfficialRodarte), Chris Pine (he abhors social media), and John Cho (@JohnTheCho) are UC Berkeley alumni.

In case you need it, here’s the cheat sheet version:

If you want to avoid this whole mess (but where’s the fun in not showing off your knowledge), use alum (in place of alumnus and alumna) and alums (in lieu of alumni and alumnae). Just don’t do so in formal writing.