Address Others with Commas.

Ever wonder when to use commas? There are many occasions when commas help—especially when creating a pause in a sentence. A unique instance involves addressing other people.

In other words, you sometimes use a comma before or after a person’s name. That said, only use the comma to show when you are speaking to (addressing) that person.

For example:

  1. John and Wendy go to the store on Tuesday.
  2. John and Wendy, go to the store on Tuesday.

These sentences communicate two different ideas. Sentence 1 speaks about John and Wendy. In other words, it describes when they go to the store. Sentence 2 speaks directly to John and Wendy, as indicated by the comma. In this case, John and Wendy are being told to go.

Similarly, a comma can precede a person’s name. Again, this can signify who is being addressed.

Several examples can help here:

  1. Help Mr. Grammar.
  2. Help, Mr. Grammar.

The comma changes the meaning. Three words remain the same, but the comma signifies meaning.

  • “Help Mr. Grammar” would mean that there is a person with the last name of Grammar, and the directive involves helping that person.
  • “Help, Mr. Grammar” is a plea for help. The person (in this case, “Mr. Grammar”) is being asked for assistance. 

Notice how the meaning not only differs, but flips! In the first case, help goes to Mr. Grammar. In the second case, help comes from Mr. Grammar. It’s astounding how a single punctuation mark can affect meaning.

Ready for another challenge? Here are two sentences where the comma adds or removes a person:

  1. When you, John and Wendy, go to the store, buy some ice cream.
  2. When you, John, and Wendy go to the store, buy some ice cream.

The difference is subtle, but significant. In the first case, the “you” refers to both John and Wendy. In the second case, three people are being addressed: you, John, and Wendy.

How should use commas in such cases? Surround a person’s name (before, after, or both) to signify that person is being spoken to or not. Use commas if talking to him/her/them. Do not use commas otherwise, such as if you are talking about rather than to them.

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