Commas for Direct Address (the Vocative Case)

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

Commas for Direct Address (i.e., the Vocative Case)

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 using a comma or commas.

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.
  • ("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?
  • (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.
  • (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.
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

Using commas (a summary) Our big commas test What is the vocative case? Commas after a sentence introductions 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