Section 6.38 in the Spotlight

6.38Section in Spotlight 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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IMG_20150818_160326_881Last week, we introduced our new Chicago Style Workouts series. How much do you know about using the serial comma? Test your knowledge of CMOS sections 6.18–6.21 with this quiz!

Note: Subscribers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online may click through to the linked sections of the Manual. (For a 30-day free trial of CMOS Online, click here.)

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