New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Curriculum

dictionary and thesaurusToday’s addition to the Glossary of Confusing Words: curriculum

This is a particularly great word, because explaining it will invoke many other words that we’ve already put into our Glossary! So thanks to whoever submitted it (you didn’t say your name, but hopefully you know who you are).

A curriculum is the set of courses [definition] offered by a university or program.  It’s essentially the word to describe the listings in a university catalog [definition].

You’ll most often hear it used in describing a school or program’s educational philosophy; for example, “this school teaches a liberal arts [definition] curriculum,” or “the curriculum mixes theory and practice.”

Many schools also use a “core curriculum,” which is a set of subjects you must study in order to graduate.  Schools that have a core curriculum don’t always require students to take specific courses; often they are required to study specific subjects but can choose from several courses within that subject.

Do you have a word to contribute to our Glossary of Confusing Words? Share words that have confused you or that might confuse others about studying in the U.S. Leave your suggestions in the comments, or use the form below.


  1. According to longman dictionary, both curricula and curriculums are correct plural format. There is a related word syllabus. From definition I guess that it is the detailed schedule of a currilum. For example, if we take the word “curriculum” as a book, then “syllabus” is the inventory of this book. Is that an appropriate metaphore?

    1. I guess that metaphor works. In plain language, a syllabus is the outline/summary of what will be covered in a course. As a student, your professor will usually provide you with a syllabus at the start of the semester. The syllabus will outline what you will learn in that course (often breaking it down by class session so you know what will be covered in each session and what you should come prepared to discuss), the course requirements (exams, papers, other components of your grade), the required textbooks for the course, and anything else you might need to know about the course.

      Speaking of interesting plurals, the plural of syllabus is syllabi or syllabuses (both are considered correct).

  2. It would be helpful to clarify the fact that the word curriculum is singular. It represents a collection of courses, but it is one curriculum. The plural is curricula. Many people use the word curriculum as a plural noun. This is incorrect. So, as a usage example, if a school district is considering the first-grade curriculum it will adopt, the investigating team may examine several curricula from several different publishers, but in the end there will be one curriculum purchased, which will comprise units teaching reading, writing, mathematics, and art.

    1. According to the dictionary, you can use “curriculums” instead. Not around me you can’t 🙂

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