The importance of the vocative comma

The vocative comma is an important, but often forgotten, piece of punctuation.  Its purpose is to separate the person being addressed from the rest of the conversation, so we know who’s being spoken to.

In spoken English, we use pauses to signal the separation, and these should be reflected with commas when we write.

Consider this snippet I found on talkenglish.com.  It is from a questionable conversation that was under the category ‘Talking About Girls’:

A: “I think she is out of my league.”

B: “Chicken. Somebody is only out of your league if you think so. What do you see in her anyway? She is a little chubby dude.

She is a little chubby, dude. She’s a little on the heavy side, buddy.

She is a little chubby dude. She’s a small, fat man.

If we listened to this conversation, the meaning would be clear, but in its written form, it’s ambiguous at best.

Another example from Flickr poses the question, is she a vegetarian man, or a vegetarian, man?

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