How to use names in directly addressed questions?

I have trouble in understanding where to place names in the following questions.

John, why don’t you go to the grocery store and buy some milk?


Why don’t you go to the grocery store and buy some milk, John?

  • 2
    Both are fine. Is there any reason you think one is more appropriate than the other?
    – Andrew
    Jan 29, 2017 at 6:59
  • I thought there should be a standard way of using names in these types of questions. Thanks for the clarification Jan 29, 2017 at 13:21
  • At some point the rules of a language let go of the speaker's hands, and the rest is left to your choice of style and meaning. :) The difference here would be purely pragmatic. Do you need to get John's attention to make sure he knows the request is being addressed to him? Then say "John" first. On the other hand, are you already addressing him directly and know that he's listening to the suggestion? Then say "John" last. This kind of misunderstanding is common. "Do you want to buy some milk, John?" To which, at the word "John", you get the reply: "Oh, sorry, were you talking to me?" Jun 14, 2017 at 15:37
  • I would make the above an answer but it's just one of the infinite nuances you could get by subtly changing word order, intonation, stress, etc. Since @Andrew already makes that point, I would probably just accept his answer. Jun 14, 2017 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


Both are fine. As far as I know, there is no rule about where to include someone's name as long as it doesn't confuse the sentence. These are ok:

Why don't you go to the store, John, and buy some milk?

These are still OK but a little unusual. They emphasize the word that comes before:

Why don't you, John, go to the store and buy some milk?

Why, John, don't you go to the store and buy some milk?

Why don't you go, John, to the store and buy some milk?

These would change the meaning of the sentence:

Why don't you go to the John store and buy some milk?

Why don't you go to the store and John buy some milk?

They would make sense if "the John store" or "John buy" had an actual meaning, which is not likely but certainly possible. The point is that, if you see a proper noun in the sentence in an unexpected place, it might be modifying the following verb or noun, and not just a grammar mistake.

  • How could "Why don't you go to the store and John buy some milk?" be grammatically correct? If it is not, then why do you have to use it as an example sentence? I can understand that "The John Store" can be a name of a store, but "John buy" doesn't make any sense to me. Do you mean that the above sentence is addressed to two different people? Like, (Tom) Why don't you go to the store? John, why don't you go and buy some milk. Please explain. Jan 29, 2017 at 18:01
  • I'm just using it as an example. It's possible (not likely) that an expression like "John buy" can be meaningful. As a poor example, I could ask someone to "Vegas shuffle" a deck of cards, meaning to mix the cards in a way that is common in Las Vegas. Again, it wouldn't be a common expression, but you might come across something similar in the future.
    – Andrew
    Jan 29, 2017 at 18:36
  • 1
    @AhmbroDude That sentence is correct but, as Andrew says, means something different. However, I wouldn't interpret it as a bizarre compound verb "to John buy". Instead, I would see it as a coordination meaning "Why don't you go to the store, and why doesn't John buy some milk?" I suppose a likely context would be if "you" refers to two people, of whom one is John. Here's another example: "Mom, I want to go to the concert but Maggie wants to see a play." — "Well, why don't you go to the concert and Maggie see a play? You don't have to do everything together." Jun 14, 2017 at 15:32
  • @LukeSawczak yes, that's a good point. I didn't consider the case where John might be a third person.
    – Andrew
    Jun 14, 2017 at 15:39

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