How to Punctuate "Hi, June" - Greetings and Direct Addresses
Add this to our list of futile language peeves. It's one I’m trying to let go of. I see it in my e-mail in-box every day. It’s so common that it has pretty much completely replaced its more correct alternative. It’s the greeting:
Not that there’s anything wrong with saying hi or calling someone by name. The problem, in my eyes at least, is that comma.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a “direct address” should be set off by commas. A direct address occurs when you call someone by a name or other term used like a name.
Goodbye, Norma Jean
Excuse me, ma’am
I swear it, officer
Chief, you gotta believe me
Dude, punk, chief, officer, Steve – those are all direct addresses because they’re all things people are being called directly. When we say they’re supposed to be “set off” with commas, that means that when one appears in the middle of a sentence it should have a comma on either side.
Goodbye, Norma Jean, and good luck.
Hey, dude, that’s awesome.
If they're at the end or beginning of a sentence, of course, the period at the end of the sentence precludes the need for a second comma.
Goodbye, Norma Jean.
Dude, that’s awesome.
But almost every time I see a direct address in my e-mail in-box, it has no comma before the name.
It does, however, have a comma after the name. But that doesn’t make sense, either, because it’s not in the middle of a sentence.
I think I know why this is so common. A lot of correspondence starts with greetings like:
Unlike Hi, June, that is fine. “Dear” isn’t the same as “hi.” Dear is a modifier, and you don’t use a comma to separate modifiers from the things they modify “lazy, cat.” They work as a unit: “lazy cat.” Second, a comma after Dear John makes more sense than a comma after Hi, June. "Dear John," begins a thought, while "Hi, June." is a complete thought. (By the way, when addressing a letter, it’s okay to use a colon, too. Dear John: )
I think people have the "Dear John," greeting seared into their minds, so "Hi John," looks right to them, even though it would be better as "Hi, John."
As I said, I’m trying to let that one go. The form I think of as incorrect seems to be rapidly replacing the "correct" one. If I were to get fussy about it, it'd be just a matter of time till no one was saying hi to me at all.