Will You Commit Lynn? On Commas in Direct Address

My husband Michael gets copies of my email. We are in business together, and he keeps track of what comes in when I am busy teaching business writing courses.

Last week Michael received a political email, a persuasive request with the subject line "Will You Commit, Lynn?" 

He relaxed when he noticed the comma before my name. Without it, the message might have been distressing: Will You Commit Lynn? One serious interpretation of that question would be "Will you put Lynn in an institution for people with mental illness?" A less grave meaning would be "Will you assign Lynn to this project?"

But the comma told Michael he was reading a message addressed to me–not about me. The comma indicated "direct address." 

Omitting commas in direct address is the most common punctuation error I see. These sentences from recent emails suffer from it: 

Thank you Lynn.
Many thanks Lynn.
Wonderful tips Lynn.
Thanks Ms. Gaertner-Johnston.
Thanks for the info Lynn.

Because the writers are addressing me, a comma should come before my name. 

Will you commit, dear reader, to using a comma when you address your readers directly?

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. I made the mistake of responding to a vendor who sent me a photo to look at: Cute Rich. I actually meant: Cute, Rich. Then I continued with the email so it appeared as if I were addressing him as Cute Rich. Fortunately, he is also a friend but it was still embarrassing.

  2. What about commas in the sentence “My husband Michael gets copies…”? Shouldn’t there be commas around “Michael” because it is an appositive? Unless you have more than one husband.

    Just askin’.

  3. Hi, Alfredo. I haven’t actually seen anything like your examples. But they reminded me of an old comma example I like:

    “No, price too high.”
    “No price too high.”

    What a difference a comma makes!

    Lynn

  4. Hi, Val. One husband is plenty for me.

    I follow the “Gregg Reference Manual” style of not using appositive commas for “very close relationships.” Here is how “Gregg” describes it:

    “A number of expressions are treated as essential simply because of a very close relationshiop with the preceding words. (If read aloud, the combined phrase sounds like one unit, without any intervening pause.)”

    “Gregg” goes on to provide this example:

    “My wife Eve has begun her own consulting business.”

    This example is provided in contrast:

    “Eve, my wife, has begun her own consulting business.”

    The second example requires a pause. The first does not.

    Thanks for asking, Val! What do you think of this approach?

    Lynn

  5. Hmmm, one more rule exception to be remembered. I think I’ll stick with Chicago on this one – they leave the commas, but do allow them to be dropped in “informal prose.” Something for everyone!

  6. Here’s another classic example, similar to “Eats, Shoots, Leaves”.

    “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” Altering the punctuation changes the meaning dramatically: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.”

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