Commas for Direct Address

by Craig Shrives
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Using a Commas for Direct Address

When addressing a person or thing directly, the name used must be offset with a comma (or two commas if it's mid-sentence). For example:
  • Jackie, are you leaving so soon? correct tick
  • (As "Jackie" is being addressed directly, her name is offset with a comma.)
  • I suspect, Michael, that you know the answer. correct tick
  • (As "Michael" is being addressed directly, his name is offset with two commas.)
commas for direct address

More about Commas for Direct Address

When addressing someone directly, writers should separate the name being used (e.g., "John," "Mary," "my darling," "you little rascal," "my son") from rest of the sentence with a comma (or two commas if the name is mid-sentence).

The Grammar

  • The person or thing being addressed is said to be in the vocative case.

Examples of Commas Used for Direct Address

In each example below, the person or thing being addressed directly (i.e., the thing in the vocative case) is shaded:
  • Alan, put your hand up if you do not understand. correct tick
  • ("Alan" is being addressed. The word "Alan" is said to be in the vocative case. It must be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.)
  • Where do you think you are going, you little devil? correct tick
  • (Somebody is being addressed as "you little devil." Those words are in the vocative case, so a comma is required.)
  • Absolutely, John, get your skates on. correct tick
  • (In this example, the word in the vocative case ("John") is in the middle of a sentence. Therefore, two commas are required.)
Read more about the vocative case.

Commas with "Hi," "Hello," and "Dear"

Commas should be used as follows at the start of correspondence such as letters and emails:
Dear John,

Thank you for your support. Blah blah...

(Here, "Dear John" is in the vocative case.)
Hi, John,

Thank you for your support. Blah blah...

(Here, "John" is in the vocative case.)
Hello, John,

Thank you for your support. Blah blah...

(Here, "John" is in the vocative case.)
Read more about using commas with the vocative case.

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