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I'm a programmer and in a program I'm currently creating, I want to get a list of all the accounts names that can access a database.

I have no idea if I'm supposed to "get account names", to "get accounts name" or to "get accounts names".

My best guess is that "get accounts names" is the correct answer as it seems more logical to say it that way, but I see the first case used the most, which makes me doubt about this.

The way I see it, "get account names" would refer to multiple names given to a single account and "get accounts name" would be the name of the group of accounts, but I'd like some clarification on this.

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This depends mainly on whether you wish to emphasize "account" and "name" as being a single unit (an "account name") or as separate units (the "name" of an "account").

In the first case, an "account name" is a single thing. So you can think of it as being a parenthesized term, and then pluralize thus: "(account name)s". You can see that "account" is not pluralized, since an "accounts name" is not a thing.

However, if you wished to separate "account" and "name" as concepts, you would say "Get accounts' names", where the apostrophe indicates that names belong to accounts.

In normal English usage, I have seen the "Get account names" formation much more often.

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"Get account names" is what I have heard and read the most as well, but I couldn't figure out why. Your explanation is great and I understand how it can be the "correct" way of saying it in this case. Thanks! –  Adam Smith Dec 14 '12 at 17:03
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Your explanation of the three forms – “get account names”, “get accounts name”, “get accounts names” – certainly makes sense. I agree that “get account names” might technically refer to “multiple names given to a single account”; however, most people will instead understand it as equivalent to “get names of accounts” (a form you could also use, as an alternate to previously-suggested “get accounts’ names”). Also, if it is the case that the application dictates one account-name per account, “get account names” is unambiguous anyway.

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Thanks for your answer. Your recommendations make a lot of sense. –  Adam Smith Dec 14 '12 at 17:12
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