Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Grammar Brigade: Commas and Addressing People

Look, Charlie, it's the Grammar Brigade!  That's right; we often forget the importance of grammar in our hurry to get the story across.  But good grammar does make a difference.  Bad grammar is one of my pet peeves (just ask anyone I've edited,) so I'll be putting up the occasional lesson for frequently forgotten rules.

Today's topic: Commas in addressing people.  I frequently see writers forget to set names off with commas.  This makes a difference.  Consider:

Fly to the North James.

Huh?  Where is "North James"? Is that a city?

Oh, you mean:  Fly to the North, James.  As in, James the character should be flying North.

When directly addressing a person, set off their name with a comma.

Nora, look out!  The Grammar Brigade is out to get you!

Don't worry, mom; it's not as bad as it looks.  (Note: "Don't worry" is a complete clause.  If you add anything else, you'll usually need a semi-colon.  This is another common mistake.)

In all of these cases, the name is a way to identify to whom the sentence is addressed.  "Luke walked to the store" does not need a comma, because you're not directly addressing Luke.  "Cherry, Luke walked to the store" does need a comma - you're informing Cherry that Luke walked to the store; thus, you are directly addressing her (and she probably just asked where Luke was, at the same time that Sally asked where her shoes were.)

Any questions?