For some reason my brain tells me that the following sentence is grammatically correct...

Thanks, John. Your gift was much appreciated.

Instead of...

Thanks John, your gift was much appreciated.

Which should I use?

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    The comma functions as a way to make your meaning clear when there is more than one possible reading. In your examples and in the accepted answer, the commas are traditional, but omitting them does not offer multiple readings. "I ate John." is a more obvious construction that highlights why the comma "rule" exists.
    – horatio
    Apr 3, 2013 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


John in your sentence is a noun in the vocative case (the case used for the noun identifying the person, animal, object, etc. being addressed) which should be separated with comma(s) regardless of its position in the sentence. Though modern English lacks a formal (morphological) vocative case, I use it only to accurately identify the nouns in this category.

Thanks, John, your gift was much appreciated.

John, come here!

Thank you, John!

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    This is quite right as far as the punctuation point goes, but it might be misleading to the OP to speak of the vocative case, because there is really no such thing in English. The only possible inflection of John is John’s. Apr 3, 2013 at 14:35
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    @Barrie England You're right. I've edited my answer so it points that out. Thank you Apr 3, 2013 at 15:00

When you address someone like this, it is usual in writing to set off the name with a comma, or a pair of commas if appropriate. This is a matter not of grammar, but of punctuation.

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    I think to many people, "grammar" still includes "punctuation", even if they don't go so far as to include "spelling" as well. Personally I think fretting about exactly how to "correctly" punctuate OP's quintessentially spoken construction is a bit anal anyway. But my guess is some style guides (particularly, the more recent ones) would endorse a comma here, where some (older ones?) might favour a period. My general principle is we should strive to reduce all non-essential punctuation. Discard commas wherever possible, "downgrade" periods to commas, etc. Apr 3, 2013 at 16:54
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    @FumbleFingers I'd be careful what I call non-essential since in some cases punctuation can even save lives: Let's eat John! vs Let's eat, John! :) Apr 3, 2013 at 20:07
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    @SmokerAtStadium: But suppose there'd been a dozen other survivors of the plane crash up there in the mountains. It might have saved more lives if you and they had all eaten John, rather than you and John eating all the others. And how often do you pass a written note to someone else suggesting it's time to eat? Apr 3, 2013 at 22:15
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    @FumbleFingers Does it matter how often something is written when talking about punctuation? Apr 4, 2013 at 5:59
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    @SmokerAtStadium: No, but does it matter that theoretically I could interpret your last sentence as meaning "Does is matter how often you engage in the physical act of writing something (about any subject) at the same time as talking (actually speaking) about punctuation"? You could have avoided that potential misparsing by including a comma after the word "written" - but you didn't bother, either because you didn't see the danger, or you didn't feel it was worth bothering with. We punctuate to aid clarity, not to observe "rules of grammar". Apr 4, 2013 at 14:56

Both of the original poster's examples are grammatically correct. They are pronounced slightly differently: There is a distinct pause for breath after the period, and less of a pause after the comma. The original poster should use the punctuation that matches his pronunciation.

When writing a letter, it is traditional to use a comma (or maybe a colon) after the salutation. (There is a distinct pause for breath after the salutation.) For example:

Dear John,

   Your gift was much appreciated.

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