You just wrote a letter to Mr. Wilson, a business contact. Now, before you send it, you proofread it. Of course, you pay particular attention to the commas because most punctuation errors are comma errors.
Commas with Names
Let’s look at three of the sentences you wrote.
Wrong: “Mr. Wilson I am sure you will recognize the benefits of this plan.”
Wrong: “When you receive the package Mr. Wilson, please let me know.”
Wrong: “Thank you for your time Mr. Wilson.”
Each of these sentences has the same type of error: missing commas.
Zen Comma Rule M tells us “When directly addressing someone, place commas around his or her name.” The sample sentences above didn’t do this, and they are, as a result, incorrect.
The letter is to Mr. Wilson. You are directly addressing him by name. You need to separate the name from the rest of the sentence because the name is interrupting the flow of the sentence. In this way, the name is a type of parenthetical expression, and, like all parenthetical expressions, it needs to be set apart with commas.
The first one is easy to fix. You just need to add a comma after the name, as follows.
Right: “Mr. Wilson, I am sure you will recognize the benefits of this plan.”
The second sentence is a bit more complicated. It already has a comma after the name. Maybe you put in that comma to follow Zen Comma Rule G: Put a comma after introductory clauses and phrases. Maybe you followed the risky and often mistaken strategy of putting a comma where you pause. You paused after the name and put in a comma, but you might not pause before the name. The comma you added is correct, but to make the sentence correct, you also need one before the name, as follows.
Right: “When you receive the package, Mr. Wilson, please let me know.”
The final sentence is also pretty easy. You just need to add a comma before the name to separate it from the rest of the sentence:
Right: “Thank you for your time, Mr. Wilson.”
Commas with Titles
Mr. Wilson is a doctor and the chairman of you community organization. Because you are using his titles (i.e., doctor, chairman), you might need commas here, too.
Using commas with titles is the same as using commas with names. You need to decide whether you are using the title as a name. If you are addressing someone by his or her title, or if the title is part of the name, then you use commas as above. Otherwise, you don’t need the commas (and probably not capital letters). Here are two more sentences you wrote.
Wrong: “Doctor I saw you leaving your neighbor’s house after midnight.”
Wrong: “If I were you Mr. Chairman I would contact my lawyers.”
In both sentences, you are addressing Mr. Wilson directly. Rather than using his name, you are using his title. These sentences also need commas, as seen here.
Right: “Doctor, I saw you leaving your neighbor’s house after midnight.”
Right: “If I were you, Mr. Chairman, I would contact my lawyers.”
That’s all you need to know about this type of comma use. If you are directly addressing the reader by name or title, put the name or title in commas.
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