View Full Version : Commas and Direct Address

02-18-2006, 07:55 PM
I wrote this long ago for another site where mistakes with punctuation and direct address were rampant. A few people there seem to have gotten it and no longer make the same miskates. Maybe it'll help someone here.
A long-time favorite example reminds writers why we have to set off the name (or title, or group name, whatever) of the person being talked to with a comma. There’s a major difference between Let’s eat, Grandma! and Let’s eat Grandma!

Some of us could use a refresher course in using commas to separate any direct address--that’s one character speaking (or writing) directly to somebody.

Use commas to separate the name or name substitute from the rest of the sentence.

It doesn’t matter if the direct address is to a single person, a small group, a multitude, or even a non-physical concept. It also doesn’t matter if you’re using full names, proper names, job titles, terms of respect, derogatory terms, formal titles, nicknames, phrases to describe or identify a group, etc.
Hi, Sarah!
Honey, you’re home early. Dinner’s not ready.
I’m going out to eat, dimwit. Remember?
Mr. Smith, Miss Jones, your table is ready.
Yes, your Honor, I killed him.
All right, you in the press box, let’s settle down.

Use one comma if the direct address appears at the beginning of the sentence.
Barney, who is this bimbo? (Chinatown)
Lester, could you make me a little later, please? Because I'm not quite late enough. (American Beauty)
S-s-sir, there's a captain outside wants to see you. (L.A. Confidential)
Man, why're you talkin' about Larry? (L.A. Confidential)
Good people of Oz, this is positively the finest exhibition ever to be shown... (The Wizard of Oz)
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears... ( Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”)
Darkness, be my pillow. (Jesse Colin Young, “Darkness, Darkness”)

Use one comma if the direct address appears at the end of the sentence.
You lied to me, Mr. Lundegaard. (Fargo)
Don't placate me like I'm your mother, boy. (American Beauty)
Ain't that bad, old hoss. (The Shawshank Redemption)
You tell me, f***-stick! They're addressed to you, every damn one! (The Shawshank Redemption)
I love you, Honey Bunny. (Pulp Fiction)
You are a very nosey fellow, kitty cat. (Chinatown)
All right, men. You've had your fun. Time to break it up. (L.A. Confidential)
Stop them, you fools! (The Wizard of Oz)
Bye bye, love. Bye bye, happiness. Hello, loneliness. (The Everly Brothers, “Bye Bye, Love”)

Use two commas if the direct address appears anywhere else in the sentence.
I don't run the scams, Red, I just process the profits. (The Shawshank Redemption)
Run, Toto, run! (The Wizard of Oz)
Oh, Auntie Em, don't go away! I'm frightened! (The Wizard of Oz)
Okay, Pontius Pilot, when I count three, honk your horn. (Pulp Fiction)
Congratulations, honey, you were great. (American Beauty)
Okay, people, I'm going to go 'round and collect your wallets. (Pulp Fiction)
Hello, Darkness, my old friend. (Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence”)

It has to be a comma (or two). Not ellipses if the speaker is to pause. Not a period. Not a colon. Not a dash or a hyphen or extra blank space.

To test whether a name is used as a direct address, see if the sentence still makes sense--and the same sense--without it. If it does, then the use of the name is direct address.
These are not direct addresses but other uses of characters’ names, so they don’t need commas:
I like George Bailey. Tell me, did he ever tell anyone about the pills? (It’s a Wonderful Life)
This is Special Agent Ray Nicolet with Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. (Jackie Brown)
I have often wondered where my career would have been had Jerry Maguire been my agent. (Jerry Maguire)
And this "Enchanter" of whom you speak, he has seen the grail? (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
So that was Mrs. Lundegaard in there? I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. (Fargo)
Do you think Potter would have let you keep it? (It’s a Wonderful Life)
Ever heard of a fella named Beaumont Livingston? (Jackie Brown)
As you can tell from the examples, aspiring screenwriters seem particularly prone to this little goof.

Maryn, hoping this helps someone who wasn't sure whether the comma really had to be there

02-18-2006, 08:29 PM
"A few people there seem to have gotten it and no longer make the same miskates.'

I know it's a simple typo, but "miskates" is a realllllly good one, both from the irony standpoint and because it ought to be made a real official English language word, meaning exactly what it means here.


02-18-2006, 11:25 PM
Haha, obviously I didn't see it, but maybe I should leave it in. You can tell that the spell-check on my google toolbar doesn't work here, can't you? (It freezes about every other use.)

Maryn, glad she never held herself up as infallible (or infallable, either)

02-18-2006, 11:31 PM
Thank you (comma) Maryn (comma) for this post. From time to time, I do make the mistake of eating Grandma. If I keep this in mind, she should be a lot safer.http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif

02-19-2006, 03:04 AM
Eating one's grandparent is precisely what we've come to expect from those who eat sheep lungs without a moment's hesitation.

Maryn, who's never tasted haggis, actually (and doesn't want to know what's in a hot dog, thank you!)

02-19-2006, 03:54 AM
want to know what's in a hot dog, thank you!)


Oops. You didn't want to know? Sorry. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/emoteDisappear.gif