What Is the Vocative Case? (with Examples)
Vocative CaseThe vocative case is used to show direct address (i.e., to show when you are talking to somebody or something directly). In English, words in the vocative case are offset using commas.
Easy Examples of the Vocative Case
- Hi, Sarah.
- Jack, get off.
- I know, Stephen. (The comma before Stephen is required to show Stephen is being addressed. Without the comma, it means I know a person called Stephen.)
- Dammit, sir, it is your duty to get married. You can't be always living for pleasure. (Oscar Wilde)
Real-Life Examples of the Vocative CaseThe vocative case applies to nouns and noun phrases. It is used most frequently with proper nouns (the specific names of things, e.g., Simon, Rover).
- Let her ride the donkey, Dick.
- See you next Tuesday, Face. (a quote from "The A Team")
- To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. (Oscar Wilde)
- Your sister is called Teresa because it's an anagram of Easter, which your mother loves. Why do you ask, Alan? (Teresa is not being addressed. Her name does not need to be offset with commas.)
- You're the man, man.
- On your feet, dog.
- Where have you been, you little adventurer? (The word adventurer is a common noun. The term you little adventurer is a noun phrase, i.e., a group of words playing the role of a noun.)
- Dexter, fetch the stick.
- You have risen like one of Aunt Sally's Yorkshire puddings, you little beauty.
Why Should I Care about the Vocative Case?There are two good reasons to care about the vocative case.
(Reason 1) Showcase your writing skills.Using commas to show the vocative case will showcase your English skills, and, let's face it, that's the best reason to care about the vocative case. However, there are times when failing to use the vocative case could cause ambiguity.
- I want to, mate.
- I want to mate.
- "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski." (President Bill Clinton)
Did President Clinton use the vocative case cleverly?
One more point: When the name being addressed is in the middle of a sentence (which is quite rare), it is offset with two commas. For example:
- Yes, John, get your skates on.
- It is true to say, dear, that we are skint.
(Reason 2) Avoid the Run-on Error.When a sentence ends with a word in the vocative case, be sure to end your sentence properly before starting a new one.
- It's true, dear, we're skint. (This is called a run-on error.)
- It's true, dear. We're skint.