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Addressing greetings and direct addressing

Posted by Wendy Wood on 8th December , 2020 in Grammar
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As the holiday season approaches, you’re probably beginning to think about writing that all-important letter to Santa.

2020 has already been one heck of a year for all of us, so you’d better get your letter sent early. And you’d better make sure you’ve got the greeting correct. You don’t want there to be any chance of Santa misunderstanding. You might have some gifts you need him to bring to keep you occupied through the long dark winter. I know I do!

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) says to use a comma to set off direct addresses. A direct address occurs when you call someone by their name or by another term used in place of their name. For example, “Matt” and “you fool” in “Dinner is ready, Matt” and “Kiss me, you fool” are direct addresses.  If a direct address is in the middle of a sentence, such as in “I think, my friends, that I will say farewell”, the direct address is surrounded by commas.

For correspondence (your letter to Santa), CMOS says a comma typically follows the greeting, though a colon may be used in formal letters. Though “Dear John” may look like a direct address, “Dear” is an adjective describing the noun “John”, so no comma is necessary.

CMOS says if the greeting of your letter consists of a direct address, two marks of punctuation are needed to set off that direct address. So, you could start a letter with “Hi, Karen,”. However, CMOS goes on to say, the first comma is often left out in casual correspondence. So most people will write, “Hi Karen,”.

What exactly does all this mean for your letter to Santa? Well, 2020 being what it is, I’m writing my letter as formal as possible. I don’t want to take the chance that the big guy doesn’t deliver. Here’s what the beginning of my letter will look like:

Dear Santa: (formal correspondence)
I am hoping this letter finds you well, dear sir. (direct address set off by a comma)

You may have been a better boy or girl than I was this year, so your letter may look something like this:

Hi Santa, (informal greeting with direct address)
Please, dude, (direct address set off by commas) can you bring me a puppy!

Good luck with your Christmas list requests!

Wendy Wood

Editor’s note: Matt is Wendy’s husband. I think Matt working from home might be wearing a little thin!


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