Vocative Commas and the Vocative Case

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Today’s topic, vocative commas (and, by extension, the vocative case), comes from a request from Marilynn Byerly.

Let’s start with a definition of what a vocative comma is and what the vocative case is.

The vocative case sounds like something made up, but it’s actually a real thing—and it’s pretty straightforward, too. Basically, when you’re addressing a person by name, you’re using the vocative case:

Marcy, have you seen my pen?

What time is dinner tonight, Mom?

Those are pretty straightforward. Most people get tripped up when the name comes in the middle of the sentence:

As you know, Bob… (sorry, a little writer humor there)

Here’s the real example:

 You need to stop, Frank, because you’re going to ruin your liver if you keep drinking like this.

You need to separate something in the vocative case from the rest of the sentence, using a comma. This is known as a vocative comma.

But how do you know when something is NOT in the vocative case and therefore doesn’t need a vocative comma?

Again, this is pretty simple.

I went to the Brigden Fair with Marcy and her mom.

Notice that I’m not addressing Marcy or her mom. I’m saying something about them. Here’s one more example for you:

Mom and I went to the Redskins game on Sunday. We had a blast.

I’m saying something about Mom. I’m not speaking to her.

Have any other grammar questions for me? Just leave a response in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them in a future post.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Commonly Confused Words of the Month (Emigrated To).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Enter your email address to follow this blog: