Comma after "Dear," "Hello," or "Hi"

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The Quick Answer
Should you use a comma after a salutation like "Dear," "Hello," or "Good morning"?
  • Do not use a comma after the word "Dear" in a salutation like "Dear John."
  • Do use a comma after the words like "Hello," "Hi," or "Good morning."
commas with Dear, Hi, and Hello at the start of letters and emails

Do Not Use a Comma After "Dear"

There is no comma after the word "Dear" when it is used at the start of a letter or an email. You should, however, use a comma after the salutation. For example:
Dear Michael,

Thanks for paying for dinner last night.
Dear Sir,

Thank you for your comments on Apollo 11.
For more formal correspondence, you could follow your salutation with a colon. For example:
Dear Mr Smith:

I regret to inform you that your application has been declined.
Dear Professor:

Thank you once again for hosting our discussion.
The word "Dear" is an adjective. It describes the noun it precedes. Putting a comma after "Dear" would be as bad as putting one after "red" in "red bus."

A Comma with "Hi" or "Hello"

When the salutation in your letter or email starts with "Hello" or "Hi," then you should put a comma before the name of the person you're addressing. It is also standard practice to put a comma after the name of the person you're addressing. For example:
Hi, Michael,

Thanks for paying for dinner last night.
Hello, Sir,

Thank you for your comments on Apollo 11.
Using a colon (instead of a comma) after such an informal salutation would be unusual. You could also use an exclamation mark if you wanted to emphasize an emotion (like surprise).

It's All about the Vocative Case

In English, when you address someone (or something) directly, the name you use is offset with a comma (if it's at the start or end of the sentence) or two commas (if it's in the middle ). When you address someone directly, their name is said to be in the vocative case. In the examples below, the words in the vocative case are shaded:
Dear Michael,

Thanks for paying for dinner last night.
Hello, Michael,

Thanks for paying for dinner last night.

End Your Salutation with a Comma, Then Start Afresh

With letters and emails, there's a quirk. Even when your salutation ends with a comma, the next sentence (which starts below the salutation) starts with a capital letter. (It is as though the salutation did not exist.) For example:
Dear Michael,

Last night went exactly as planned.
Hello, Michael,

Last night went exactly as planned.
So, you can happily end your salutation with a comma and start the next sentence afresh.

For some people, this is too illogical, and they prefer to end the salutation with a colon as opposed to a comma. However, a comma is fine. In fact, it is the most common way to end a salutation.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Ending letters with Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully When to use Ms., Miss., and Mrs. What is the vocative case? What are adjectives? What are nouns? Commas after a transitional phrase Commas after interjections (yes, no, indeed) Commas before conjunctions (and, or, but) Commas for parenthesis Commas in lists Commas with a long subject Commas with numbers Commas with quotation (speech) marks Commas with the vocative case List of easily confused words