comma with direct address: 'What are you saying Mark?'

ryansamturner

Member
British English
If i were saying the below sentence, would I put a comma before the name?

'What are you saying Mark?'

Should it be:

'What are you saying, Mark?'

Thanks
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, there should be a comma. It separates two intonationally separate phrases, for one thing, and it could make a difference to the interpretation too. Compare:

    What don't you want to tell Mark?
    What don't you want to tell, Mark?

    In normal intonation, the main clause goes down in pitch (after the last main stressed syllable: 'saying'), then if there's a person being addressed, their name rises slightly in pitch. This is more noticeable if you add more syllables after the stress:

    What don't you want to tell \Christopher? ['tell Christopher' is all in the main part of the clause]
    What don't you want to \tell, /Christopher? ['Christopher' is a vocative, separate from the main part]
     

    ryansamturner

    Member
    British English
    Thanks. What about this example.

    I can't thank you enough George, I really can't.

    Would I put a comma before the name?
     

    ryansamturner

    Member
    British English
    Sorry to be a pain here.

    What about a short sentence like.

    Please Mark, Please.

    Would that be:

    Please, Mark, please.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    If you say "Please, Mark, please" your voice goes down when you say Mark (as ET pointed out).
    This is why we have a comma in writing. Punctuation rules are often arbitrary, but the rule here seems to have a purpose.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    This is difficult:(.

    In general, I think I would use a comma.

    But to be informal, I'd omit the comma.

    Punctuation has a lot to do with personal preference....
     

    ryansamturner

    Member
    British English
    I have been putting:

    'Hello Mark.'

    Same with:

    'Please Mark, please.'

    But it seems from most of the responses that they should be:
    'Hello, Mark.'
    and
    'Please, Mark, please.'
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    For me, there's a huge difference between "Please Mark, please," and "Please, Mark, please." The first asks "Please give pleasure to Mark," while the second entreats Mark twice.

    In sentences employing direct address, it's customary to set off the phrase addressing your audience with commas: "Objection, Your Honor!" "I submit, members of the Continental Congress, that a nation unfit to..." "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears." "Come on in, you two, and have a seat."

    I think the irregularity follows from what Entangled brought up: sometimes the address flows entirely through the sentence, particularly in short sentences, whereas most of the time there's a different kind of inflection (which the commas mark). So there is a difference between the sentences:

    "Hey Mark!" and
    "Hey, Mark."

    The reader understands the inflectional difference quite easily, I think.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    It would be unusual to begin an email or letter with:
    Hi, Mark
    Hello, George
    Dear, Betty


    Yet I would insert a comma after "hello" elsewhere if I intended it to reflect a change in intonation.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It would be unusual to begin an email or letter with:
    Hi, Mark
    Hello, George
    Dear, Betty


    Yet I would insert a comma after "hello" elsewhere if I intended it to reflect a change in intonation.
    Actually, Hi, Mark and Hello, George don't look at all strange to me (though Dear, Betty does). Part of the story here is (I think) that we now, in general, use less punctuation than was fashionable formerly. I also suspect that we're more inclined these days to make punctuation follow intonation.

    It follows that I can't really offer any rules - except, perhaps, 'omit commas wherever you don't think they add anything'.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, grammatically, dear is different from hi or hullo/hello/hullo. I see hi and hullo as greetings, whereas dear is an adjective and that is why the comma doesn't go there: Dear Betty, My dear Betty, Dearest Betty, My very own dear Betty ...

    Hi and hullo can stand on their own without a name as well, so when a name is added it clarifies who hi or hull is said to. So I'm fuddy-duddy enough to still want commas there:

    Hi, Mark!
    Hullo, George!
    Good morning, Andrew!
    Greetings, Jonathan!
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    For me, there's a huge difference between "Please Mark, please," and "Please, Mark, please." The first asks "Please give pleasure to Mark," while the second entreats Mark twice.
    Since we can't hear capital letters, everyone listening to the first sentence might get out their pencils and make a mark on something. :)
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I think you would definitely say the two sentences in very distinct ways as well - the intonations etc. would be completely different. But it's very hard to write those things down, isn't it?
     

    rsall

    New Member
    English
    What about when you are correcting student work-would it be:
    Great job Tyler!
    or
    Great job, Tyler!
     

    robrecht

    New Member
    English (US Midwest)
    Put me down with the fuddy-duddies who prefer good, old-fashioned 'correct' grammar, which like Greek and Latin prefers to have a means of distinguishing the vocative case. In written English, we do this by putting a comma before a name or other substantive used in direct address (including adjectives, of course).

    For example: "Hi, sweetheart." "Hi, George." "Hi, Jerk-face." The comma sets apart the intended audience with special status. Saying, "Hi, George," is very different from saying, "Hi," or "Hi" [someone or other whose name I can't even be bothered to remember]. There should be a difference in tone, and likewise a comma, indicating the importance of interpersonal address.
     
    Last edited:

    dmaxmccsimon

    New Member
    English-- Southern
    May I concur with some here? The use of the comma, as robrecht (are you related to ruprecht?) notes, is what indicates that you are addressing a person ("direct address" and "vocative" meaning roughly the same) rather than using using the word is some other grammatical form, such as a modifier.

    So, "Please Mark" might be understood (as noted above) as the imperative, "I am ordering you to please Mark!", which may have salacious implications and would only be useful if you're writing in the erotic mode.
    Inserting the comma makes it clear that you are addressing a person named Mark, and that whatever goes before or after his name in the sentence does not act as a modifier of his name.

    Also as noted, in short informal usage, "Hello Mark" might not be objected to, since no reader is likely to believe that "hello" modifies "Mark" but is readily almost always seen as a form of greeting. But I'd put the comma in anyway since it signals to the reader that this situation is in the state of vocativity (I just made that word up).
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    If i were saying the below sentence, would I put a comma before the name?

    'What are you saying Mark?'

    Should it be:

    'What are you saying, Mark?'

    Thanks

    Another way to look at it:

    "Why are you asking, Mark?" means something completely different from "Why are you asking Mark?" In the first one you are speaking to Mark. In the second one you are speaking to someone else who is asking Mark a question.
     

    robrecht

    New Member
    English (US Midwest)
    May I concur with some here? The use of the comma, as robrecht (are you related to ruprecht?) notes, is what indicates that you are addressing a person ("direct address" and "vocative" meaning roughly the same) rather than using using the word is some other grammatical form, such as a modifier.

    So, "Please Mark" might be understood (as noted above) as the imperative, "I am ordering you to please Mark!", which may have salacious implications and would only be useful if you're writing in the erotic mode.
    Inserting the comma makes it clear that you are addressing a person named Mark, and that whatever goes before or after his name in the sentence does not act as a modifier of his name.

    Also as noted, in short informal usage, "Hello Mark" might not be objected to, since no reader is likely to believe that "hello" modifies "Mark" but is readily almost always seen as a form of greeting. But I'd put the comma in anyway since it signals to the reader that this situation is in the state of vocativity (I just made that word up).
    Yes, Dr. Max, you may always concur with some here, especially with me.

    The name 'robrecht' is indeed related to 'ruprecht', but I am not.

    I love the word vocativity! I too had never heard it before, but see here, here, here. here, here, and elsewhere.
     
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