Watch Your Language

I blame email for the near-extinction of the direct-address comma. We expect no punctuation in texting and emailing, but along the way we've sacrificed the will and ability to differentiate between casual exchanges and a correctly constructed English sentence.

"Hi Katy!"
"No way dude."
"Kiss me you fool."
"Here's looking at you kid."
All wrong. Common, but so very, very wrong.

When directly addressing someone in written speech, a comma is required before the addressee. It's not optional, my friends.

"Hi, Katy!"
"No way, dude."
"Kiss me, you fool."
"Here's looking at you, kid."

"Put me in, coach" is an athlete's plea.
"Put me in coach" is an airplane traveler's seating request.

See the difference?

The rule applies whether the message comes before or after the addressee:
"Enclosed please find a million dollars, Mrs. Brewer."
"Mrs. Brewer, enclosed please find a million dollars."

And it applies whether the message is short or long:
"Hello, Dolly!"
"You're looking swell, Dolly, I can tell, Dolly."

My dear readers, that's all for today's lesson on the direct-address comma.


  1. Grammar Girl would be so proud of you. Don't even get me started on the butchering of our beloved language by the typical texting-fiend teenager.

  2. My late mother would correct the spelling and puncuation of the erasable "specials" board in restaurants. In particular, she loathed the rampant misuse of apostrophes, i.e. "pork chop's." Sometimes she needed to dabble out an offending character with a Kleenex and some spit, or she would take the pen in hand to correct misspellings such as "rice peeloff." This always took place as the hostess stared, uncertain as to whether this customer was actively dangerous or just a bit dotty. When she was finished, my mother would turn to the hostess and make a short speech about correct grammar and punctuation. The hostess would put on a brave smile and ask, "Table for two?"

  3. The tendency these days, to insert commas where they don't belong, is also vexing. For example, insertion of a comma immediately before the verb, is incorrect but not uncommon.

  4. Here's another one you'd enjoy:

    The Grammar Vandal.

    From her "about me" section:
    I carry a sheet of comma stickers and a Sharpie with me at all times, ready to fix each mistake. If an error glares at me, I'm there to destroy it.

  5. Jered, how great is that blog? I'm getting me some of those comma stickers and a Sharpie.

    Bruce and Martha, the commas -- oh, my stars, the many, many commas where they aren't needed and not enough where they are. I weep.

  6. I loved it! But I just have to say: texting gets a bad rap. I teach students how to write and they do not bring their LOLs and OMGs into their essays. There must be an alternative scapegoat to blame for poor grammar, such as lack of effort on many teachers and parents to demand proper speech. Just a thought.