Commas Surrounding Names or Titles: A Requirement or Not?
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Use of punctuation can be perplexing. Of course, the average person may not be too careful about their use of punctuation, but someone with a keen eye for grammar can tell the difference in the meaning of the sentences when the appropriate punctuation marks aren’t used.
Placement of the comma in regard to names is one of the misunderstood ones. Most people make the mistake of placing a comma only before a name or title. However, a comma can also be placed both before and after a name or title, depending on the context.
Commas can be used with names in two ways:
1. A name can be placed between two commas in a sentence. In this case it is known as an appositive. An appositive is a noun or phrase that gives extra information about a noun or phrase in the same sentence.
Compare these two sentences:
My boss Rob is a workaholic.
My boss, Rob, is a workaholic.
In the first sentence there’s no comma and the name is an appositive noun. If the name is removed, it would still make sense. But in the second sentence the name is in between two commas. This gives extra information about who the boss is.
Another example is:
“Very well, Miss Moore,” he said.
If we remove the name, the sentence would be:
“Very well,” he said.
The first sentence shows the man is speaking to a woman named Miss Moore while in the second sentence the name is omitted. Although both sentences make sense, mentioning the woman’s name shows whom he’s talking thereby giving more information.
Such information placed between two commas is also known as non-restrictive clause. It can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Consider the example:
Jack and his sister Karina walked into the store.
In this sentence there are no commas because Jack has more than one sister. But if he has only one sister commas would be needed on both sides of Karina because the name is non-restrictive.
On the other hand, a restrictive clause modifies the noun that precedes it and cannot be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning. In short, non-restrictive clauses can be removed, which are indicated by the commas, but restrictive clauses are needed to make sense in a sentence and therefore don’t require commas.
Incorrect: Will you give me back the pen, that I gave you yesterday?
Correct: Will you give me back the pen that I gave you yesterday?
2. Another usage is the comma of direct address. In this case, only one comma is used before or after a name or title.
Compare the two sentences:
I will see John.
I will see, John.
The first sentence refers to me meeting John sometime in the future, whereas, in the second sentence I am answering John. Note how the presence of the comma makes a huge difference in the meaning of the sentence.
In the case where a name or title comes first in the sentence, it should be followed by a comma. Boys, come back in the house.
From this example, you don’t need to use a proper name to address someone. Even a title like Boys works.
Has this article helped you in understanding the importance of commas with names? Please do comment below.
Garima has written articles on a wide variety of subjects, such as lifestyle and culture, and she’s also written many book reviews. Recently, she’s decided to devote her energy to writing full time. Garima is open to learning new skills and gaining more opportunities. Currently she’s writing fantasy and contemporary romance novels and has her own writers’ group on Facebook called Beta Readers and Critique Partners; it was awarded one of the top seven finalists under the category Book Communities: Shaping the Future for the Global Book Community Awards 2020.
To read more content by Garima Nabh, please visit her blog.