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:

Hi June,

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
Hey, dude
Listen, punk
Excuse me, ma’am
I swear it, officer
Chief, you gotta believe me
Oh, Steve

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.

Hi June,

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:

Dear John,

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.

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5 Responses to “How to Punctuate "Hi, June" - Greetings and Direct Addresses”

  1. I have this same problem!

    I totally understand why people do it, but it's still kind of tough. It's really easy to put a comma after "hi" when I'm following "June" with an exclamation mark. Then, the completeness of the sentence is evidence.

    But I do not always feel so spunky and, well... a colon is so formal. Another comma is clunky. A period is too final.

    So, yeah, I agree with you: let it be, let it be.

  2. I always start my formal emails with

    Dear Ms. Casagrande,

    More often than not, I get the reply

    Hi Dan,

    Once the recipient has replied using my first name, I will now use their first name. Also, because they used "Hi" not "Dear", I feel I am now free to use "Hi" too. However, I always punctuate my greeting in this way.

    Hi, June. (MS Office doesn't like this.)

    For me, putting a coma after the greeting and before the direct address just feels right for all the reasons June mentioned above. I also know that "Hi" and "Hello" should be followed by an exclamation mark, but I think that is an alarming way to begin an email. Maybe this is because an exclamation mark is more commonly used for alarm or surprise, or perhaps it's due to its overuse in informal, descriptive or quoted language (E.g "Ka-pow!!!!", "Ouch!!!!").

  3. Thanks for writing this! After seeing -so- many people write "Hi ," "Greetings ," "Farewell ," etc., I was curious if having a comma before the name was the correct grammar or not, and turns out they are!

  4. Hi, if I want to write, "I think I will name him 'Tommy'." How do I punctuate that?

    Thank you!

  5. Angie:

    I think I will name him Tommy

    or

    I think I will name him "Tommy."

    Both are fine. But in my experience, professional publishing prefers to skip the quote marks whenever possible (I assume because of the visual clutter they create). For that reason, I think of the version with no quotation marks as the more professional-looking of two. And, as you can see, no comma needed.