Grammar Freshman or Freshmen: Which Spelling Is Correct? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Freshman or Freshmen: Which Spelling Is Correct?

What do you call someone who has just entered their first year of high school or college?

It’s easy to confuse the words freshman and freshmen. They are spelled almost identically, and it’s easy to miss the difference sometimes when we hear them spoken aloud. So how can we tell freshman and freshmen apart?

Let’s look at the difference between them.

The Meaning of the Word Freshman

As a noun, the word freshman refers to a student who is in their first year of high school, college, or a university program. It can also be used as an adjective to describe a group or event for the same students.

Here are some examples using these familiar meanings:

I haven’t seen Jake since my freshman year at the state university. (adj.)

The school likes to throw a freshman party every September. (adj.)

It’s very common for a freshman to purchase a new computer. (n.)

You can see how the word freshman, used as a noun or an adjective, can easily be understood. So what happens when we change the spelling slightly?

The Meaning of the Word Freshmen

As it turns out, the difference between freshman and freshmen is small and simple to discern. Whereas freshman refers to a single first-year student, freshmen refers to multiple first-year students. Consider the following two sentences, each of which is correct:

I met a freshman on campus today.

All the freshmen went on a tour of the campus today.

The easy way to understand this is by noting the different endings of the root word. A single adult male can be referred to as a man, but a group of males would be called men. In the same way, one first-year student is a freshman, but a group of them are freshmen.

Deciding Between Freshman and Freshmen

Although both versions of the word can technically be correct, it’s also true that freshman is used far more often. That’s because it can be used as both a noun and an adjective. Freshmen, on the other hand, can be used only as a noun to describe multiple people.

This can cause a bit of confusion when putting together a term such as “freshman class.” Even though the class is made up of several first-year students, the spelling has to be singular—freshman—because it is being used as an adjective.

Once you understand this distinction, you’ll find it easy to apply the correct word in its context. As you continue your journey to refine your precision and eloquence in American English, you’ll also know you have mastered the difference between freshman and freshmen.

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