Telling Friends How to Punctuate E-mail GreetingsPosted by June on October 5, 2015
I made the mistake of telling some friends a while back that it’s better to address an e-mail
Bad idea. But before I get to how this backfired, let me explain the punctuation issue.
Most casual correspondence you see these days begins with something like “hey” or “hi” or “hello” followed by the recipient’s name. Nothing wrong with that. But perhaps 99% of the time, there's a comma after the name but not before it.
I suspect that’s because people are so conditioned to seeing the traditional greeting:
But just because “Dear June,” is punctuated this way doesn’t mean that’s how you’d punctuate greetings that being with “hey,” “hi” or similar words. Grammatically, they’re different. In “Dear June,” the word “dear” is an adjective. It’s modifying the noun “June.” So “Dear June” is just a noun phrase, not a complete sentence.
But “hey,” “hi” and “hello” aren’t adjectives. They’re basically interjections, which can stand alone as sentences. So they don’t combine with a name to form a single noun phrase.
There's another aspect to this, too. In editing, when you call someone by a name, it’s called a direct address. A direct address is set off with commas.
As I’ve been saying, June, this is the plan.
In "Hey, June" you have a complete thought, "Hey," followed by a direct address. So theoretically a comma should go between them. What about afterward? Well, as I said, interjections can function as complete sentences, which is why I punctuate these greetings with a period.
If you prefer you can make this part of the sentence that follows by ending it with a colon.
And, technically, you could also end it with a comma.
That looks terrible. So I don’t recommend it. Unfortunately, ever since I mentioned this issue to friends, that’s how a couple of them now address their e-mails to me and, I presume, to their business associates.
I tried to explain that the first comma's good but a period at the end would be better. But the second lesson isn’t sticking as well as the first. So my help wasn't very helpful. And from now I’ll keep silent on this matter.
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
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