What Is a Vocative Comma?
In addition to greeting a lot of people throughout my day – if I venture outside, being a freelance writer who works from home – I spend a lot of time refereeing disagreements between my young kids. Thus, it’s often important to identify which child I am addressing. Any time you address someone, be it in the written or spoken word, a vocative comma appears to signal the vocative case.
Why Is the Vocative Case Necessary?
There are times when it becomes necessary to specify the person, place or thing you’re addressing. Yes, you can address anything you please in the vocative case; it doesn’t have to be a person.
- You, my sweet, are the most gorgeous car on the block!
Here, “my sweet” is set off by vocative commas and indicates the speaker is speaking to a car. The vocative comma should be used to clear up any confusion as to the meaning of the sentence.
- Good morning, readers!
In this vocative comma example, the speaker is addressing the readers with a common salutation. Without the vocative comma, the sentence appears like this:
- Good morning readers!
Although you might think you understand the meaning behind the phrase, the lack of a comma actually changes the meaning. Here, the sentence appears to just be a statement of the existence of morning readers who are good. Or perhaps the “readers” are not people, but things that you read? The meaning quickly becomes confusing, especially without context. This is because “good morning” becomes an adjective modifying “readers.” If you mean to address someone or something, make sure the comma is in place before the name.
How Do You Use Vocative Commas?
The use of the vocative comma is fairly straightforward. If the person or thing you are addressing comes at the beginning of the sentence, place a comma after it.
- Joe, what do you know?
If the person or thing you are addressing is named at the end of the sentence, put a comma before the name.
- What do you know, Joe?
If you address the person or thing in the middle of the sentence, place commas before and after it.
- What, Joe, do you know?
It’s important that you don’t accidentally create a run-on sentence when using the vocative case and comma, however. This happens when the vocative case is used with two independent clauses that would normally be split with a period, except there is no period.
- INCORRECT: Hello, Joe, what do you know?
- CORRECT: Hello, Joe. What do you know?
When Should You Use Vocative Commas?
When considering when to use commas with names there are a few things to consider. The firstr is that the vocative comma creates proper grammar for phrases more likely to be found in the spoken word. It is often used at the beginning of letters and emails. Outside of correspondences, the vocative case is more prevalent in informal and creative writing.
Professional writing, such as scholarly papers or professional blogs and web sites, is less likely to use the vocative case because of its informality. While the vocative case can clarify the meaning of a sentence, it is good practice to avoid its use in professional writing.
What Meaning Does Your Comma Convey?
Although it might not seem like much, the vocative comma is essential to the meaning of certain sentences. What are your thoughts on using vocative commas before and after names? Are they necessary at the beginning of a letter or email? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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I don’t tend to read-up on grammatical correctness because I’m a bit of a snob and like to think I know it all, even when the evidence is right there in front of me to the contrary. However, I too realise that I run the risk of looking like an idiot if I pen a passage that is technically incorrect, as it veers concentration and interrupts the flow of reading, which is the last thing I want from a reader.
I want to ensure I completely understand vocative commas and the correct way to use them, but too feel that I have a valid contention to the aforementioned rules. If you are addressing a person whose name is in title case, how can there be any doubt that you are addressing them? “How are you Joe?” Why is the comma necessary there when it’s so obvious that the joe refers to a person?
Hi, Marcel. This is a great question. Omitting the comma can slow comprehension. The majority of people will likely read “How are you Joe?” and realize that the writer is asking Joe how he is doing. However, technically the question is asking an unknown person (in this example), “How is it possible that you are Joe?” By using the vocative comma, the reader can quickly comprehend that Joe is being asked a question.
Thanks for reading!
I like your explanation. Congrats, Amber!
When emailing someone and saying ‘that’s great, thanks Bob’ or simply replying ‘thanks bob!’ is the Vocative Comma necessary? I have used it many times but now many of my peers do not. And sometimes it feels pointed in reply to my usage! It also feels unnecessary when you reply to someone directly, but I could be wrong.
Hi, Shirley. Please continue to use the vocative comma to enhance readability. Consider this example: “George Apple called me for an interview!” I’m telling George that Apple called me for an interview, but it reads like a person named “George Apple” called me. You might assume that George, the friend you are addressing, understands what you mean, but even George is going to read that sentence and stumble on it for a second before comprehending fully. So, yes, vocative case really does matter!
I am fairly confident and consistent in my use of the vocative comma for the reasons already noted, but I see it so frequently not used in emails at work that include many recipients that I finally took to looking it up this morning. Thank you, Britainy, for confirming that sometimes taking that extra second to tap a comma can just clarify a lot!
Congratulations Sara! Is the comma necessary?
Yes, the comma is necessary. It provides clarification and enhances readability. Thanks!
Is a vocative comma necessary in the following sentence:
I’m with, Katie.
Or, should it be:
I’m with Katie.
“I’m with Katie.”
Thanks, Brittany and Amber, for sharing this punctuation information!
Others’ lack of vocative commas is a pet peeve of mine.
When I’m referring to a person, but not addressing them directly, what is proper? In a letter to an insurance company, is it, “Your member, Jane Doe, was treated for…” or, “Your member Jane Doe was treated for…”?
Good question. “Your member, Jane Doe, was treated …” means that the insurance company has only one member, and her name is Jane Doe. On the other hand, “Your member Jane Doe was treated …” means that you’re talking about a member of the insurance company who is named Jane Doe.
I suggest going with a combination of the two: “One of your members, Jane Doe, was treated …” This is different from the first example because you specify that you’re discussing “one of” the members.
At the start of a sentence, should this example read as “Oh no, John,” she said, “don’t do that!” or should the comma before John be omitted?
Thank you 🙂
The comma is correct, Cat!
Thanks for reading,
I’m making a cover to a big card for a coworker’s retirement. I want it to say who it is for, as well as who it is from. Should it say, “To, Sarah” or “To Sarah?” Then, also, should it say, “From, All of us at…” or, “From all of us at…”
No, you wouldn’t use the comma in those examples.
Best of luck!
Why is there not a comma after drawing in the statement, “When her fingers aren’t flying at the keys, she enjoys reading, video games, drawing and learning new crafts.”?
Some writers follow AP style, which does not use the Oxford comma (the serial comma).
“Mr. and Mrs. López, drink this champagne.” Does the comma here necessarily form a command ?
“Drink this champagne” is an imperative clause, which means it gives a command. The addition of “Mr. and Mrs. López” with the vocative comma directs Mr. and Mrs. López to drink.
If you take out the comma, you’ll have a declarative statement: “Mr. and Mrs. López drink this champagne.” You could use phrasing like this to point to a specific type of champagne and explain that Mr. and Mrs. López drink that brand of champagne.
Thanks for this! I see so many examples of authors not using this clause, whose name I did not know until Google led me to your article. And how it bugs me! It’s the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma!”.
Title : Trim the cat …. or is it supposed to be Trim, the cat. ?? Came here to check cos (I think) I saw the former, and figured it should be the latter.
I realise now (in my sixth decade) that I’m a bull in a china shop who’s surrounded by their written faux pas – a mountain of wreckage. I think it’s best to laugh.