The Writer’s Toolbox – I’m Talkin’ to You, Part II

In last week’s column, we looked at nouns that directly address the person or thing You’re speaking to. We learned the general rule for these nouns of direct address: set them off with a comma or pair of commas, depending on where they’re located in the sentence.

The general rule is easy enough to understand when You’re writing dialogue. When you apply it to correspondence, though, things can get tricky. This week we’ll sort out some of those situations and offer suggestions on how to handle them.

Good Morning!
One of the trickiest direct address issues involves sentences with short greetings or salutations, like “hello” or “good morning.” The general rule still applies; use commas to set off the noun of direct address…

Example A: Good morning, Amrit, and welcome to our Investors Group family.

Example B: Goodbye, Sarah.

…even in this situation:

Example C: Hi, Ricky!

Did Example C surprise you? It may look strange, because on the surface “Hi, Ricky” seems similar to “Dear Ricky.” However, they are very different.

“Hi, Ricky” involves an interjection (“hi”) and a noun of direct address (“Ricky”), while “Dear Ricky” doesn’t have an interjection at all; “dear” is an adjective that describes “Ricky,” as in “My dear Ricky.” In fact, the whole phrase “Dear Ricky” is a noun phrase That’s used to directly address the recipient. The main sentence that goes with that phrase of direct address would be the first line of the correspondence.

Letter Perfect
So what does this mean when you write a letter? Must you style your greetings “Hi, Ricky” or draw down the wrath of the grammar gods?

Not necessarily.

In informal correspondence, the general rule is that there are no hard and fast rules. Even the Chicago Manual of Style editors suggest that starting out your emails with “Hi Sarah” instead of “Hi, Sarah” is perfectly fine:

Example D:

Hi Sarah,

Got the key?thanks!

Example E :

Hi, Sarah!

Got the key?thanks!

This exception only applies to informal correspondence. However, there’s little room for confusion?if the letter or communication is too formal to use “Hi” as a greeting, stick with the general rule.

Example F:

Dear Professor McGonagall ,

Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon.

The Case for Colons
As with all direct address nouns or noun phrases, an address in correspondence is followed by a comma. There’s one exception, though: in more formal correspondence, a colon is preferred over a comma after the greeting.

Example G:

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed is my application for . . .

We’ve covered nouns of direct address and punctuation of direct address, and discussed some of the unique challenges of using both with correspondence. Next week we’ll wrap up the mini-series with some notes on capitalization issues that may arise when using direct address nouns. Which is correct, “I want some ice cream, mom” or “I want some ice cream, Mom”? Answers (and an explanation) in a week!

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.

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