Monday, October 20, 2014

Commas with Interjections and Direct Address

Commas. Just when you think you've found where they all belong, there's another rule to confuse things.

Most people seem to know about using commas in a list (the Oxford comma), or including commas before conjunctions (or, but, and, so, if) connecting two independent clauses. But you also need commas when your sentence directly addresses someone or contains an interjection.

Some examples.

"Look out for that giant boulder, Rodger!"
"Rodger, look out for that giant boulder!"

Assuming the speaker took the time to say all this, they are directly addressing the soon-to-be-squished Rodger. A comma is needed before or after his name depending on the location of the name. Also notice that the people or person being addressed don't have to be called by name. A comma is still required even if the object isn't named.

"Everyone, look out for that giant boulder!"
"Look out for the giant boulder, everyone!"

"I love you, my little squishy face."
Butt head, that's my toe you're standing on." 

"Rodger never gets squished by boulders at home."

Conversely, here the speaker is only talking about Rodger, not to him, so no commas are needed.

"Geez, Mom, you're embarrassing me."

This sentence has two reasons for commas. First, you have an interjection that requires a comma and second this sentence is addressing someone. When the person being addressed is in the center of a sentence, they are offset by commas.

"Cool beans, Rodger, on becoming the next Flat Stanley."

An interjection is an add-on to the front, middle, or end of a sentence used to exclaim, protest, or command. Depending on how strong the exclaimation, it may or may not be its own sentence.

"Gee, that's swell."
"Hooray! That's swell!"
"Shit, Rodger was squished by a boulder."
"Oh, it got my toe too!"
"Ow! It got my toe too!"
"Being flat may be useful, but it's hard to kiss that way, isn't it?"
"Yes, I'm going to Rodger's funeral."
"Rodger should have listened to me, right?"
"Indeed, that was a bad day for Rodger."
"Well, he's at peace now."

Interjections can be a great way to break up your sentence structure and avoid monotony. Addressing characters in your sentences can help avoid confusion when multiple speakers are involved. Just remember the commas!

Now for the fun! Got any examples of your own? Keep them PG, please.


  1. o/ Question. lol "Then": comma or not? I'm always fighting with Microsoft about this.

    1. "Then" on the end of a sentence would have one. Like if they're clarifying. "Do I have to clean my room, then?" I don't think 'then' at the beginning of a sentence would. But that would be a style choice by the writer. As long as it is consistent.

  2. Same for Too if it comes at the end of the sentence?

    She was angry too. She was angry, too.

    Or to quote "He looked back at the snake and winked, too" -Harry Potter JK Rowling
    I only ask cause I'm rereading harry potter and she does this kinda often, and her use of too always sounds a little odd to me.

    1. Lately, a comma has been optional before too. It depends on the writer. The thing is to be consistent whether you use the comma or leave it off.

  3. Thanks for this, Michelle. Tell me you remember Schoolhouse Rock's "Interjections!" episode. Sorry, I might be dating myself. The snappy lyrics have come to haunt me after reading your blog.

    Interjections show excitement or emotion.
    They're generally set apart from the sentence by an exclamation point,
    Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.

    Can you tell that I had nothing better to do on Saturday mornings?

    1. Conjunction, junction, what's your function? is the one I remember the most. :-) That and the poor sad Bill sitting on the steps of congress.

    2. Exactly! I recall that so clearly. Funny the thins you remember.