Your CV: Is it Vita or Vitae?

By Nancy Gonzalez, CFLE

In my experience—and I've worked in academic settings most of my career—there has been much confusion over what to call one's CV. I was writing an article on this topic for our member magazine and was confused myself. So I decided to get to the bottom of it, once and for all! I checked with a Latin expert at the University of Minnesota, have clarified the information, and here are the facts.

The accurate term for the CV is the "curriculum vitae."

It's called a "vita," which is true in everyday conversation, but that's not the whole story. The misunderstanding surrounding this issue is astonishing. According to University of Minnesota Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies Dr. Nita Krevans, "Almost everyone gets this wrong. This language has not been spoken outside the church and the academy for more than a thousand years."

Part of the problem, she says, is that in common parlance,"vita" is the preferred term, as in "Send me your vita." Compounding the confusion, though, is that the form "vitae" is plural for the word "vita." In the case of curriculum vitae, however, it is not a plural, but a singular with the same spelling. In this case, it's a modifier for the singular word "curriculum."

What is the plural? If you have a stack of CVs, the plural is "curricula vitae." "Actually," Professor Krevans added, "if you want to get really technical, the classical plural for a CV is 'curricula vitarum'." Bewildered? There's more. Amazingly, a modernized plural, "vitas", has crept into usage now and is considered acceptable, too. What does this mean in terms of creating job search documents?

Long story short:

Your document is your "curriculum vitae." (It is pronounced VEE-tye, not VEE-tay—another frequent error!)

Conversationally, it's called a "vita." As a practical matter, Dr. Krevans suggested that since the mix-up is so widespread, it's probably best to just call it a CV. You might avoid a lot of chaos by referring to it as such, as in "I have enclosed my CV," etc.

Sounds like good advice. The whole point in presenting your application documents is to allow your credentialing to shine through. If you write "curriculum vitae," even though it's correct, you might have many readers who will stop momentarily and think, "Is this right?" Meanwhile, they might be distracted from reading your wonderful dossier!

I am grateful to the alert NCFR members who posed this question and to Dr. Krevans for the clarification.