Facebook Posting: Are You a True Friend?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this post:

Many people on my friend’s list don’t even bother with me or just poke/like my stuff.

It’s followed by a request for friends who see the post to leave one word describing their day.

Whoever started it must indeed have been feeling neglected or lonely. But whoever started it didn’t think through the implication of the apostrophe in friend’s list. I likely won’t gain any friends by being a ruthless editor and pointing out the grammatical error!

What is the correct way to express a list made up of many friends?

a)    friend’s list
b)    friends’ list
c)    friends list

a) The first example describes one list belonging to just one friend:
My friend’s list of things she needs to do today is short.

b) The second describes multiple lists belonging to many friends:
My friends’ lists of college courses don’t include classical rhetoric.

c) The third is not possessive; it is descriptive. It describes the kind of list mentioned on Facebook:
Many people on my friends list don’t live in my hometown.

Using apostrophes to indicate possession when there’s a plural involved can be tricky. Here are other examples where what might appear to be possessive actually is descriptive:

teachers college
Mac users group
Green Bay Packers lineman
nurses station
writers guide

Caution: Spellcheck can lead you astray; it suggests using an apostrophe with some of these examples.

And that, my friends, wraps up this ruthless editor’s blog post.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)