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Using Commas for Direct Address (the Vocative Case)

The Quick Answer
When addressing a person or thing directly, the name used must be offset with a comma (or commas if it's mid-sentence). For example:
  • Jackie, are you leaving so soon?
  • (As Jackie is being addressed directly, her name is offset with a comma.)
  • I know your sister, Michael.
  • (As Michael is being addressed directly, his name is offset with a comma.)

Using Commas for Direct Address (i.e., the Vocative Case)

When addressing someone directly, writers should separate the name being used (e.g., John, Mary, my darling, you little rascal, my son) from rest of the sentence using a comma or commas.

The person or thing being addressed is said to be in the vocative case.

Examples of Commas Used for Direct Address

In each example below, the person or thing being addressed directly (i.e., the thing in the vocative case) is shaded:
  • Alan, put your hand up if you do not understand.
  • (Alan is being addressed. The word Alan is said to be in the vocative case. It must be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.)

  • Where do you think you are going, you little devil?
  • (Somebody is being addressed as you little devil. Those words are in the vocative case, and a comma is required.)

  • Absolutely, John, get your skates on.
  • (In this example, the word in the vocative case (John) is in the middle of a sentence. Therefore, two commas are required.)
Note

What Is the Vocative Case?

When somebody is being addressed directly, their name must be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma (or commas).

Names that are being addressed directly are said to be in the vocative case.

Read more about using commas with the vocative case.