What is the Vocative Comma? Definition, Examples in the Vocative Case

Vocative comma definition: The vocative comma is used to offset the name of addressed individuals.

What is the Vocative Case?

The vocative case is used to directly address someone.

When a speaker is addressing a particular individual, the vocative case is used.

The vocative case refers to nouns because only nouns can be the addressee.

Vocative Case Examples:

  • Do you understand, Jonathan?
    • Here, Jonathan is in the vocative case because Jonathan is the addressee.
  • You, my sweetheart, are loved dearly.
    • Here, my sweetheart, is in the vocative case because my sweetheart is the addressee.

What is the Vocative Comma?

Comma before name and commas around names The vocative comma is a punctuation mark used when the speaker is addressing a specific person or persons.

When a speaker directly addresses an individual, that person’s name must be offset by commas.

Let’s look at the examples above.

  • Do you understand, Jonathan?
    • The vocative comma is used before the addressee’s name. Since the addressee’s name is at the end of the sentence, end punctuation is used instead of an additional comma.
  • You, my sweetheart, are loved dearly.
    • The vocative comma is used before and after the addressee’s name. Since the addressee’s name is in the middle sentence, it requires two commas to offset it.
  • Julie, please answer me.
    • The vocative comma is used after the addressee’s name. Since the addressee’s name is at the beginning of the sentence, no additional punctuation is required.

Importance of the Vocative Comma

Comma in address and comma before a name The vocative comma is vital to written English. Here are a few examples with reasoning.

If the comma is not used, the name can be confused as an object instead of an addressee.

For example,

  • I don’t know, Steve.
    • VERSUS
  • I don’t know Steve.

These are two very different sentences.

The first sentence tells Steve that I do not know. In other words, I am speaking to him and letting him know that I do not know.

The second sentence says that I do not know Steve, the person. This implies that I have never met Steve.

If the comma is not used, the name can be confused as the object of an adjective instead of an addressee.

For example,

  • I wish you a happy day, Mariam
    • VERSUS
  • I wish you a happy day Mariam.

These are also two very different sentences.

The first sentence addresses Mariam and wishes her a happy day.

The second sentence uses happy day as an adjective to describe Mariam. There is no such thing as a happy day Mariam—at least, not in the way that the speaker intends.

Hi/Hello to Start Letter

Address comma and direct address comma When you begin a letter stating “hello” to someone, the vocative comma should be used. This is because you are directly addressing that individual.

For example,

  • Hello, Joe,
    • VERSUS
  • Hello Joe,

The first addresses the recipient. The second uses “hello” to modify “Joe.” Have you ever heard of a “hello Joe?”

This is different than “Dear Joe,”.

The reason for this is that Dear Joe actually is an adjective to describe Joe. You are not greeting Joe in the same way you are when you say “hello.”

Run-ons and Vocative Case

Commas before names and comma after nameBe mindful that vocative case does not give permission for a writer to use run-on sentences.

Incorrect:

  • I don’t know where it is, Sharon, I didn’t see it.

This speaker uses two separate independent clauses before and after addressing Sharon. This is incorrect. The two independent clauses need to be separated.

Corrections:

  • I don’t know, Sharon. I didn’t see it.
    • This examples uses end punctuation after Sharon and separates the clauses into two sentences.
  • I don’t know, Sharon; I didn’t see it.
    • This example uses a semicolon after the addressee to join the two independent clauses.

Summary

Define vocative comma: the definition of the vocative comma is the comma used in the vocative case when addressing someone or something.

To sum up, the vocative comma:

  • addresses individuals directly
  • is used to offset the addressee

may offset the addressee at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence