Commas in direct address

Note: Most people would probably agree that commas are the most confusing punctuation marks because there are so many rules dictating when and how they should be used. I will not attempt to list all the comma rules on this page (there are some excellent sites listed on the Resources page that explain all the rules of comma usage); instead–in keeping with the theme of this site–I will highlight a few of the errors that I’ve observed to be the most common.

I often receive e-mails that begin with the following greeting: “Hi Rachel.” Although this is certainly a friendly way to begin a letter, it violates one of the many comma rules: Always use a comma when directly addressing someone/something, regardless of whether the direct address is at the beginning or end of the sentence. If the direct address is in the middle of a sentence, use a pair of commas to set off the direct address.

Note the placement of commas in the example sentences below:

Example 1: Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? (Direct address at beginning of sentence)

Example 2: It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir. (Direct address at end of sentence)

Example 3: Thank you, my fellow grammarians, for remembering to use correct English. (Direct address in middle of sentence)

So, you see, the salutation “Hi Rachel” should be “Hi, Rachel.” A comma is needed between Hi and Rachel because it is a direct address.

Keep sending the e-mails my way, but remember that I’ll be on the lookout for any missing commas.

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Posted in Punctuation.

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51 Comments:

  1. marian says:

    What about at the beginning of an email?

    Good Morning, John,

    blahblahblah

    or

    Good Morning John,

    blablahblah

    The latter seems to be more common, and I feel obnoxious doing the former because of that. Please help 🙂

    • Rachel V. says:

      To be technically correct regarding punctuation, there should be a comma between Good morning and John; however, omitting the comma is commonplace these days.

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  6. Cindy Nelson says:

    My co-worker started the first line of an email with the following. Are the commas correct?

    Greetings, Bernadette and Dave,

    • Rachel V. says:

      Punctuation rules require the use of a comma between Greetings and Bernadette because it’s direct address. However, it’s common to see it left out, similar to “Dear Bernadette and Dave.”