comma with direct address [vocative expression]:, you idiot!


Senior Member
"Let's have a talk, you idiot!", "I'm a cop, you idiot!"

Does that mean: "Let's have a talk, you are an idiot!", "I'm a cop, you are an idiot!" ? Why are "are an" cut off then?
  • No, not quite. It's just like saying 'idiot!' to them: I'm a cop, idiot! The word 'you' can be attached to things you call people - often insults but also compliments ('you sweet person!') or for sympathy ('you poor thing!'). It's not related to any other grammatical structure - you can't do it with 'we' or 'they' or 'I', for example.
    Well, you can address someone by 'you', perhaps with something else attached: Hey, you! You over there! Yes, you with the funny hat! This is a different use of 'you'; you can't combine them: :cross:Hey, you idiot with the funny hat!

    You could use the two of them separately, one after the other: Hey, you, idiot! But this is like making two different calls: you could also punctuate this as: Hey, you! Idiot! First you call them 'you', then you call them 'idiot'. This is unusual, however.

    The lack of comma means that 'you idiot' is said as one phrase - the intonation is smooth all through it (perhaps rising slightly if it follows something else). But two separation exclamations 'you! idiot!' have two separate intonations, perhaps with a pause between them. (And that's what a comma would indicate too.)

    If you want a 'rule' it's simply that we can say 'you' + a noun (or + adjective + noun) as a single intonation phrase: you stupid idiot!
    2entangledbank: I'll remember that explanation. But no one will believe me if I explain it like that :(

    2panjandrum: I'd read it before I posted my question. But it didn't help me :(

    Hmm... I'll try it another way. What's the difference between "I'm a cop, you idiot!", "I'm a cop, idiot!" and "I'm a cop, you are an idiot!" ?
    Why not "you an idiot" ?
    Why not "you an idiot" ?

    Because that is not remotely idiomatic English.

    Idiomatic English frequently compensates for its lack of a vocative case by taking the word "you", combining it with another noun, and using the whole thing -- with no commas, no pauses, no additional words -- as a single term of adress:

    Kiss me, you fool!
    Your boss yelled at you today? Oh, you poor thing!
    A diamond necklace? For me? Why, you darling man!
    If you had any sense, you sap, you would see that your girlfriend is using you for your money.
    You found the solution to the problem? You genius, you!

    Whether you like it or not, that is how the language works.
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    It is sometimes labelled a "vocative expression" - I discovered this morning.
    I found the following text in A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address, L Dunkling - CLICK page 266.
    The commonest use of 'you' in vocative expressions is as an introductory word followed by a nominal group. Such vocatives tend to be insulting, or reproachful, or mockingly so.
    At their simplest they are two-word expressions such as 'you fool', 'you bitch', 'you pig'.
    They frequently include an adjective: 'you bloody liar', you dirty beast', 'you little upstart'.
    Notice from GWB's examples that the expressions are not always negative.
    to panjandrum:

    "In Latin, e.g., the nominative case is lupus and the vocative case is lupe, whereas the accusative case is lupum" (Wikipedia)

    I meant you can't change words ending like the ending in the example above. So you have to add "you" before a word. Then you use "you fool" like a whole word (like in Latin).

    (I believe 2 is the abbreviation for word "to")
    Look what I've found!
    Two partial solutions present themselves in English.

    The first is the archaic “O.” For example, “Praise the Lord, O my soul” for Psalm 103 is clearer. But it sounds archaic, because we don’t use “O” in normal speech in English. (“O police officer, please don’t give me a ticket…”)

    The other solution in English is to use the pronoun “you.” This, too, is stilted, and only works sometimes. “Praise the Lord, you my soul” sounds ridiculous in English.
    On the other hand, this second solution works marginally well in Psalm 117. “Praise the Lord, all you nations” is a little bit clearer (to my ear) than “Praise the Lord, all nations.”

    Still, both “O” and “you” turn what should be a simple sentence into an overly formal or archaic one. But to leave them both out sometimes leaves an unclear sentence.
    Still, both “O” and “you” turn what should be a simple sentence into an overly formal or archaic one. But to leave them both out sometimes leaves an unclear sentence.

    I strongly disagree. GreenWhiteBlue gave you several examples of common everyday English where "you" would be used. It's not overly formal or archaic in many situations. If I say, "You joker, you!" that's very casual, informal English. If you overhear someone screaming, "You ruined my life, you bastard!" you can be assured the person is being neither formal nor archaic. :) That particular use is very current, very emotional and very casual.
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