Lesson II: Direct Address


This lesson will focus one particularly thorny issue: direct address. You'd think it'd be easy, but a lot of people seem to be having trouble with it. Let me break it down for you.

A. Types

I think one thing that might throw people off is that they don't realize there's a lot of variety to what constitutes direct address. Here are four basic categories of terms that can be used for direct address.

A1. Names

First, middle, last or nick, a name is a name. I shouldn't have to explain it any further. Examples: Hideo, Kerensky, T-bone

A2. Titles

When I say "title", I mean any word used to denote a person's rank or position, including familial titles. Titles can be used in conjunction with names. Examples: Prime Minister, Baron, Sergeant, Mom

A3. Honorifics

Honorifics are special terms to show respect for the person you're addressing. Honorifics can be used with names, titles or both. When used by themselves, most common honorifics aren't capitalized, but the forms of address for royalty and nobility are. Examples: mister, ma'am, Your Excellency

A4. Generic Labels

Generic labels encompass just about anything that doesn't fall into the other three categories. Except for when they're at the beginning of a sentence, generic labels are rarely capitalized. Examples: boy, champ, slugger

B. Placement

Where you stick your commas depend on where the direct address appears in the sentence. Although you surely get the idea, I've provided examples from each of the four categories.

B1. Beginning

When you lead with direct address, you always put the comma after.

Name: "Tara Joan, you put your pants back on this instant!"
Title: "Chief, it looks like someone threw chicken bones in the reactor again."
Honorific: "Your Emminence, is it really appropriate to wonder what the sisters wear under their habits?"
Generic Label: "Boy, I'm 'bout ta smack ya inta next Thursday,"

B2. Middle

When direct address is in the middle of a sentence, commas go before and after.

Name: "Hey, Pineapple, heads up!"
Title: "I tell ya, Captain, you might want to tone it down just a skosh."
Honorific: "You have my heart, Princess, but that's my toothbrush."
Generic Label: "You try that trick with me, buddy, and I'll break your friggin' neck."

B3. End

Put the comma before when the direct address comes at the end of the sentence.

Name: "You are such an idiot, Leeroy."
Title: "That is no wig, Senator."
Honorific: "That's a fine hat you got there, miss."
Generic Label: "Catch me if you can, dorkface!"

That's it for today's lesson. Tune in next time for more fun and adventure in the wonderful world of writing.