Commas in direct address

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.

Posted in Punctuation.

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  1. Olivia says:

    How about Call me, Cory?

    I’m asking Cory to call me. Is that Correct?

    Call me Cory is me asking someone to call me Cory, correct?

    • Rachel V. says:

      Yes, you are exactly right. “Call me Cory” (w/o the comma) is asking someone to call you by the name of Cory.

  2. Micah says:

    “Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters, for tonight, the tyrant sleeps in his grave!”

    Does the above sentence use all commas correctly? This is for a comic book I’m working; I’m too shy to ask anyone in person.

  3. Moira says:

    How about Happy Birthday, Rachel?

  4. Terry Bowman says:

    Stopped by to see if the ‘commas in direct address salutations’ rule has changed yet. I see that it’s still hanging on. I anticipate that it will soon change, as it’s totally unnecessary and, as some have pointed out, doesn’t feel right.

    • Rachel V. says:

      What is your opinion on using a comma with direct address that is not a salutation? Do you include the comma?

  5. Galen says:

    If you must live by the rules, then do so and follow this one. But I will continue to think everyone that ends emails with “Thanks, Galen” or starts them with “Hello, Galen” are completely nuts.

    So if I sign an email to a single recipient as:


    Does that mean I am thanking myself?

  6. Shaj says:

    Thank you so much, Rachel for this article. I actually thought I was wrong when I found that people do not use comma in between hi and the person’s name. Yey! I am right! If people try to correct me, I know now how to correct them. 🙂

  7. Jason says:

    I strongly suggest that everyone ignore this rule. The overwhelming majority of people in this country will never place a comma between “Hi” and a name in an email salutation. Think about how many emails you have received in your lifetime with such salutation and how many times the comma has been lacking. I know only one person who uses this comma and I despise it every time I see it. Even if it is technically correct, most people will view it as a mistake.

    I am a manager and do a lot of hiring. I saw the comma at the beginning of a cover letter one time and immediately stopped reading and moved on to the next candidate. I suspect that the vast majority of people using the comma in this manner are either snooty or extremely anal and, quite frankly, not the kind of people with whom you want to be working.

    • Rachel V. says:

      Why would a cover letter even have “Hi…” as a salutation? That’s entirely too casual.

    • Amie says:

      That makes no sense! Why should knowing grammar rules equate to snottiness? If anything, it should be an asset. The candidate is able to learn a rule or procedure and apply it.

    • Roger says:

      Tossing someone on such a narrow basis (they used a comma appropriately) seems awfully limited. I’d be more inclined to seek further information about the person. At any rate, that’s what I’ve done over some four decades of hiring people.

  8. Jeff says:

    After reading this site, I’ve noticed I have been breaking this rule with nearly every e-mail I have written. I begin most messages with, “Good Morning [name],” but apparently I need that comma before the name in that case. It isn’t a simple modifier, such as “dear.” Although it doesn’t look right or feel right, the rule is hard and fast. Ugh!

  9. Renata Demello says:

    Those were great comments. My salutations have always carried the comma after hi and before the person’s name. I’ve always felt left out because no one seems to punctuate the way I do, even in my home language (portuguese). Thanks for making me feel a lot better! 🙂

  10. Abigail says:

    Its such as you read my mind! You appear to grasp a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the ebook in it or something. I believe that you just can do with a few p.c. to force the message house a little bit, however other than that, this is wonderful blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

  11. Rick Daley says:

    Dear, Rachel,

    Are there any exceptions to this rule?

    • Rachel V. says:

      You hit on the exception. “Dear John” is not the same as “Hi John.” Dear is a modifier, and it’s the same as saying, “My dear John.” A comma should not be included after dear.

  12. Andy says:

    Hi, I would just like to clarify one example for direct address. In short clause sentences such as “Enjoy, fellas.”, “Enjoy, kind sir.”, or “Have a nice day, Tony.”, would the rule still be the same, or would it become an optional comma?
    Thank you for your assistance and clarification.

    • Rachel V. says:

      Andy, thanks for your comment. Yes, the same comma rule applies, regardless of the length of the sentence. If you look at dialogue in a novel, you’ll notice that the comma is included with short sentences similar to the ones you mentioned.

  13. FKN says:

    nice one Rachel! My husband always writes “Hi, ,” and I couldnt understand it. thanks for the education!!!

  14. dave says:


    How about: Nice to meet you, too.

    I recently heard someone say it was ok to lose the comma.

    Nice to meet you too.

    But it doesn’t feel right. What do you think?


    • Rachel V. says:

      Good question, Dave. Inserting a comma before too seems to be standard, although I don’t know of a rule explaining why. I would not think to place a comma before the word also if I were to use it in the same context as too, as in: “Nice to meet you also.”

  15. Terry says:

    Don’t forget, however, (notice the commas) that language is dynamic. Today’s rules become tomorrow’s anachronisms. Abbreviated forms of communication such as texting are putting huge pressure on written communication norms. Be alert! The “rules” may change.

    I’ve struggled with the correct punctuation of “Hi Joe” and I agree with the trend of dropping the comma in this case. Perhaps someone will pass a new grammar law soon to allow for this.

    • Rachel V. says:

      Thank you for your insight, Terry. Are you suggesting that the comma be dropped in all cases of direct address, or just in e-mail salutations?

      Even the comma at the end of the “Hi Joe” salutation doesn’t really make sense. Remember the old-fashioned “Dear Joe,” (with a comma)? In this case, the comma after Joe was for direct address, with the dear being an adjective inserted for politeness. “Hi Joe” is a sentence in and of itself, so if we really want to get technical about it, we could say it should have a period at the end (but then it wouldn’t look like a traditional salutation).

  16. Beth says:

    I don’t think that I have ever seen a comma placed between “Hi” and someone’s name in an email salutation. It seems awkward; and, I think many people will be thrown for a loop regarding this rule. Thanks for opening my eyes on this one.

  17. Warsaw Will says:

    Thanks for your comment, although I cannot for the life of me see how there could be any misreading of ‘Hi Rachel’.

    I would just like to quote something from

    “The Gregg Reference Manual notes that a salutation such as Hi Marie technically requires a comma after the word Hi as well as Marie. However, it also points out that this is a very informal salutation, and that inserting a comma after the word Hi would be carrying grammatical correctness to an extreme.”

    Apparently The Gregg Reference Manual carries some weight on your side of the pond. Emails are often very informal, perhaps we shouldn’t always apply rules to them that were designed for more formal writing.

  18. Warsaw Will says:

    Where I come from there is one very simple rule for using a comma. It represents a short pause, pure and simple.

    If you met Rachel in the street and used the informal greeting ‘Hi Rachel’, would you normally pause after ‘Hi’? I think not, unless you had temporarily forgotten her name. So why pause on paper?

    After ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, I agree you would pause, but probably not between ‘Nice to meet you’ and ‘Sir’. Example 3 is a non-defining relative clause which in speech we separate with pauses, so the commas are necessary.

    @Carolina. I teach English in Poland and know that Polish for example uses commas for purely grammatical purposes, without any connection to speech. I would argue that in English it is different. What’s more, many ‘rules’ in English simply turn out to be some style-writer’s prejudices. Trust your native speaker colleagues.

    • Rachel V. says:

      @Warsaw Will: I agree that commas can represent a pause, but you have forgotten one other, probably more important, reason to use commas: to prevent a misreading. Several times I’ve encountered wording where someone left out the comma in direct address, and I misread the sentence entirely, particularly if there was an adjective right before the person’s name.

      For example:
      That’s pretty Sarah.
      That’s pretty, Sarah.

      Are we pointing out that Sarah is pretty, or are we telling Sarah that something is pretty? Big difference there. This is common in short, informal writing, for example, on Facebook, where oftentimes it isn’t even a complete sentence, just something like, “Pretty Sarah,” which makes it even more likely to be misunderstood.

  19. Rich says:

    Carolina: That second to last sentence of yours should use the word “to” instead of the word “and”. 🙂

  20. Sarita says:

    Your explanation on use of comma in direct speech was indeed very vivid. Sure never to make a mistake about this, now.

  21. David says:

    That makes perfect sense thank you.

  22. Rachel V. says:

    @ David: The “Dear” salutation is different. “Dear” is a modifier, an adjective. It’s similar to saying “Precious [name]” or “Lovely [name].” There is never a comma between an adjective and the word it modifies. “Hi” is an interjection, so it is a different part of speech altogether. Does that make sense?

  23. David says:

    Does this rule apply in the specific case of an opening to a formal letter? I’ve been taught to open a letter with: “Dear [name],” in contrast to “Dear, [name],”.

  24. Carolina says:

    Oh, it was such a bliss to find this article! I came from Russia, where I was the best in my class in literacy and grammar. Now I work in one of the primary schools in England and it gives me a constant cringe when I see such an appaling violation of this simple rule! Teachers constantly ignore commas when addressing, not to mention children who do not have an idea about that!!! I began to feel that I was doing it the wrong way. Now I have found the confirmation to what I have always known- thank you very much indeed! I will begin to implement it in my school wherever I can to try and change this sad tendency. I know, this is only a small thing but rules are rules and one must follow them, especially in schools.