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Happy 90th Birthday Ed!

My father just celebrated his 90th birthday, but the banner announcing his special day was missing something. Can you recognize what was missing from the title of this post?

Yes, the banner lacked a comma. It should have read:

Happy 90th Birthday, Ed!

The reason is direct address. That is, the message was directly addressing Ed, so his name needed to be set off by a comma.

The phrasing below does not need a comma because it talks about Ed rather than to him:

Happy 90th Birthday to Ed!

Everyone enjoyed the cake, the singing of old favorites, and the photos from my parents' 1940s wedding and my father's days in the US Navy. No one seemed to notice an absence of punctuation. Or perhaps, like me, they ignored the error and happily kept on singing. 

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

8 comments on “Happy 90th Birthday Ed!”

  • ah very good point! i can be some grammatically incorrect so often and could definitely not see what was wrong with that sentence. That is something I will keep in mind. Thanks!

  • That’s terrific news! Happy Birthday to your father.

    And thank you for attempting to whittle down incorrect comma usage. Can you please cover the serial comma at some point? =)

  • I face the same issue when sending a quick email to colleagues. If I want to simply say “Thanks, Bill”, do I need the comma. I feel funny since no on else inserts the comma. Should I stick to my punctuation rules in this case?

  • Edward, you’re not alone- I have seen the same thing in email communication among my colleagues.

    Here’s one email format I have seen that totally perplexes me:

    Thanks Jane,

    That information helps.


    Lynn, can you speak to this? Is “Thanks Jane,” a correct format for a greeting? How about the use of the comma there? I’m curious to know your expert opinion…

  • Thank you, Cathy, Rebecca, James, Edward, and Lisa Marie, for your comments. I thought this topic might be a sleeper, but I was wrong.

    Cathy, thank you for your good wishes. I do feel blessed to have my father alive, especially because he is a lovely person who lights up a room with his funny comments.

    Rebecca, this is a common punctuation error, but it is an easy one to learn. Just think about it whenever you use the reader’s name in a sentence.

    James, I will cover the serial comma soon. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Edward, you are correct when you thank Bill any of these ways:

    — Thanks, Bill.
    — Thanks, Bill, for the report.
    — Bill, thanks for the report.

    Edward, stick to correct punctuation. It will serve you well.

    Lisa Marie, greetings are evolving. But a greeting like “Thanks, Jane” does need a comma before Jane’s name. I will write more about such greetings in the next couple of days.


    Did you notice how I used commas with the names of all my readers above? Those commas are required because I was directly addressing them.


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