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02/05/2013

Fundamental Comma Rules, Part Two

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Today, I bring you the long-awaited second installment in the comma rule series: The use of commas in a direct address. This is an easy one. First, understand that “direct address” does not mean “street address.” It means that you are speaking (or writing) directly to a particular person, group of people, or thing. You are addressing him, her, them, or it and using a specific name, identification, term of endearment, insult, and so on.

Let’s say you’re a waitress and a couple comes in to your diner just as you’re walking over to lock the door for the night. You would probably say something like, “We’re closed.” But if you added some sort of direct address in there, you’d need a comma to set it off: “Folks, we’re closed.” Or, “We’re closed, guys.”

This rule applies to anyone or anything you’re addressing. If my computer inexplicably shuts itself down for the third time in a row, I might yell something like, “I hate you, stupid computer!” See how I’m directly addressing the computer? If I said, “I hate this stupid computer,” I don’t need a comma, because I’m making a general statement, not speaking directly to my computer.

If the direct address is in the middle of the sentence, you need commas surrounding it:

“I’m telling you, man, I fundamentally disagree with you.”

“Hey, Fido, marshmallows are not for dogs.”

Easy, right? This is the comma rule behind this joke you may have seen:

“Let’s eat Grandma!”
“Let’s eat, Grandma!”
Commas: They save lives.

Stay tuned for the rules on commas with appositives. It’s a little trickier, but I ain’t skeered.

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