6.38 Commas with direct address
CMOS receives regular queries from readers asking whether greetings like “Hi, Elsa” really need that comma. Especially in e-mail messages, we hear, it looks fussy. And it takes so long to type!
In a direct-address greeting with hello or hi, the comma is more traditional than essential, but in other contexts, the comma functions as a important signal that someone is being addressed:
Direct address: Stop, Ramon! [Telling Ramon to stop.]
Not direct address: Stop Ramon! [Telling someone to stop Ramon.]
Punctuation is also required after the addressee. There is no set rule as to which mark is best. Let syntax be your guide:
Comma: Sally, I don’t believe it!
Dash: I’m not kidding, pal—this is the chance of a lifetime.
Semicolon: That’s right, Janel; you were the last one to see him alive.
Colon: Honored guests: I hope you will indulge me as I sing a few tunes.
Period: Put down the scissors, Ramon.
Question mark: Was that you, Marco?
Exclamation point: Thank you, everyone! I promise this will be my last song.
Some readers point out that greetings like “Dear Fred” don’t take a comma. But Dear is not a greeting; it’s an adjective describing Fred, although the term is not meant literally. In fact, to convey actual endearment in a greeting, we enhance the term: “Dearest Fred” has a meaning not found in “Dear Fred.”
So here’s the official Chicago ruling: Use a comma before direct address and choose appropriate punctuation after it. In e-mail greetings, do as you please.
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