The Appendage Comma with

Vocatives

cc-logo-ninja-standing

Among its six uses, the appendage comma works with vocatives to signal that a person, place, or thing is being directly addressed.

ExpandedInsights

Vocawhat?

Expanded Insights

Vocawhat?

Click to learn!

The word vocative is a bit of grammar jargon that’s helpful to know. It came into English from a Latin term that means “to call.” You can hear its same voc- root in another English word, too: invoke, meaning “to call upon.” So you might use invoke to help you remember what a vocative does. A vocative invokes; it signals that someone is being called on.

Use the Comma In Sentences

Whenever you directly address someone in a sentence, separate that name with a comma:

“Amir,isn’t that your fourth piece of cake?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,Natalia.”

And when the name occurs in the midst of a sentence, use a pair of commas to distinguish the direct address from the information surrounding it:

“Seriously,Amir,it’ll take about three hours of exercise to burn off all that sugar.”

Nicknames, endearments, nouns, and pronouns also use a comma when they directly address someone or even something:

She handed him his running shoes. “Come on,sweetheart. Let’s start with a jog.”
Amir sighed. “Cake,how could you be so cruel?”
Use the Comma In Salutations

Greetings that begin correspondences also use the vocative comma. A writer might begin with a simple direct address, for instance:

James,do you realize how much email you’ve sent me?

The writer could also signal the tone of the correspondence by inserting an interjection before the direct address. The interjections “hi” and “hello,” for instance, communicate a cheerful tone. The direct address would then occur after the interjection between a pair of vocative commas:

Hi,James,thanks for spamming my inbox this morning.

This also applies to informal interjections:

OMG,James,twelve emails in twenty minutes?

Others salutations may modify the person’s name with an adjective or adjectival phrase:

My dear James,I’m blocking you.

Note that modifiers are part of the direct address. They’re not separated from the recipient’s name the way interjections are. “Hi, Sally,” is correct; “Dear, Sally,” is not.

Don’t Use It with Verbal Subjects or Objects

Use the vocative comma only when directly addressing someone (or something). Never use it when the person is named as the subject or object of a verb. If the person named is doing or receiving a verb’s action, it isn’t a direct address:

Aly,I’m taking the dogs to the park with Emma.

Knowing how to use the vocative comma to distinguish a direct address from the object of a verb can be very, very important:

Let’s eat Grandma.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

the vocative comma

it saves lives

Let’s eat Grandma.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

the vocative comma

it saves lives

Let’s eat Grandma.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

the vocative comma

it saves lives

Knowledge Check

Definitions derived from New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.)

Choose the option that correctly uses the comma with vocatives:

(Lou Gehrig’s farewell to baseball on July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium, New York)

From “The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883)

U.S. President Ronald Reagan in West Berlin on June 12, 1987)

(American founder Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775)

Previous Lesson

Next Lesson

from the creator of

ESSAY EDITING
This way to a better essay!

from the creator of

ESSAY EDITING
This way to a better essay!