to comma or not?
August 18, 2011 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Do I use a comma?

If I am ending a email or note with a thank you, I will format it like this:


But if I want to thank someone do I need a comma? So if Joe helped me and I want to thank him do I write:

a) Thanks Joe.
b) Thanks, Joe.

Of course I could write, "Thank your for you help Joe. It was much appreciated." OR "Joe, thank you for your help." But I am trying to avoid that and be more informal.

Yes, I Googled it and I am now more confused. Please explain your rationale for your answer.
posted by wandering_not_lost to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say "Thanks Joe!" The comma reads to me like you are Joe.
posted by Zophi at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


as the b) implies that you are Joe writing thanks.
posted by Leezie at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The OP isn't saying that he's planning to end an email with the thanks to the recipient.

Yes, use the comma. My rationale is that it's correct grammar.
posted by amro at 2:22 PM on August 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I gotta disagree with the first two above. The comma doesn't look like you are Joe, it only looks that way because you're priming the pump with your first example, when in reality, it's the fact that your name is on its own line that is important.

As to your question, I think b is grammatically correct, but perhaps if you want to be less ambiguous and still informal, you could say "Joe- Thanks!" or "Thank you, Joe!"
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:23 PM on August 18, 2011

I think Joe would understand either way.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:24 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need the comma to indicate the vocative case. b) is correct.
posted by Specklet at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course I could write, "Thank your for you help Joe. It was much appreciated."

Actually, you could write "Thank you for your help, Joe." Stylistically it's better with the comma. Without the comma, the sentence feels like a blurt.

"Thanks, Joe" has the same better feeling. The comma sets up your indication of who you are addressing. Try imagining the following sentences without the commas and you'll see what I mean:

"I've been waiting for you, Alice."
"I don't agree, Mr. Stanley."
"Let's not discuss that, Peter."

It's a standard-form use of the comma. What section of the Fictional Grammar Code you'll find it in is beyond me.
posted by argybarg at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Use a comma! Respect the comma! Want to know how to make it clear that Joe is not the one signing the note of thanks?
Thanks, Joe!

Also acceptable are "Hey, Joe, thanks for [thing]," and "Thank you, Joe."
posted by phunniemee at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2011

No way. The comma is totally out of place here.

As the bartender said to the teenage bear: "Why the awkward pause?"
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:28 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

But I am trying to avoid that and be more informal.

Then you would write "Thank's for your help Joe."

Seriously, though, when you're switching from writing the thing you want to say to the person to addressing the person, a comma goes there. Just like you would slightly pause between "thanks" and "Joe" if you were saying it aloud.
posted by griphus at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2011

"Thanks, Joe."

Rationale for your answer: I am Joe.
posted by mullacc at 2:33 PM on August 18, 2011

I have no clue what the "vocative case" is and for the most part I don't believe in some mythical "correct grammar." Whatever makes you understood is correct, within reason.

"Thanks Joe!" work as an exclamation- "gee thanks buddy!" kind of feel.

"Thanks, Joe." works in a more subdued way.

"Thanks Joe." feels a little odd to me. Very flat and almost sounds like a description of an action: "Walks in the room, gets a drink, thanks Joe, leaves."

A comma means a pause; it's as simple as that. If you want the reader to pause while reading it to himself in his head, use a comma.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I suppose "Thanks, Joe!" also works. In this case the punctuation at the end is more important than the comma or lack thereof.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:36 PM on August 18, 2011

Yep, this is a vocative comma.
posted by Jahaza at 2:38 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is called the "vocative comma" and it was standard English in the US and the UK for a long time. Many people would say it's still standard.

Either form is consistent with common usage.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:39 PM on August 18, 2011

This is not a matter of grammar. It's a matter of orthography.

Only "Thanks, Joe." is correct. "Thanks Joe." is not correct. The latter would lose you a point in a school paper, get you a blue pencil mark on a copydesk, and be reason to throw your resume in the trash in a human resources department.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:42 PM on August 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Comma it up!
posted by sucre at 2:52 PM on August 18, 2011

A comma means a pause; it's as simple as that.

No it doesn't. Thinking this is the quickest way to start misusing commas.

One of the most important functions of a comma is to remove ambiguity from written material; pausing for breath at a comma is mere coincidence.

The comma is needed here in order to remove ambiguity. Like has been said: without the comma, Joe can be taken to mean both the recipient of the comment "thanks" and the object of the verb 'to thank' in the case of describing an action.

Of course, if you were speaking to Joe in person then the context of the conversation would dictate that you meant the former case. But you're not speaking to Joe, you're writing, and so you don't have the benefit of context, therefore you need the comma.
posted by davidjohnfox at 2:58 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Thanks, Joe."

This does not mean you are Joe.

"Thanks Joe" is OK too if you want to be very casual.
posted by John Cohen at 3:41 PM on August 18, 2011

"Thanks, Joe." Means "I wish to thank you, Joe, for your contribution."

"Thanks, Joe" (Without period) Means you are Joe, and are signing off.

"Thanks Joe." Is a sentence fragment. Thanks is a verb in that case, Joe is the object and the subject is missing.

"Thanks Joe" is nothing.
posted by gjc at 3:48 PM on August 18, 2011

I would say without comma. Because I can't help but read a pause between thanks and Joe with that comma there, and it feels weird.

This answer has nothing to do with grammar technicalities though, just personal preference if anyone fancies sending me an email. And I would always say "thank you Joe" anyway.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:53 PM on August 18, 2011

How about this one (I am thanking Joe):

a) thank you Joe


b) thank you, Joe

What would be more correct in informal writing, such as email. I am not referring to a resume, professional paper or letter.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:59 PM on August 18, 2011

The grammatical issues are identical. You say "thank you, Joe." You also say "Hello, Joe" and "You look like my ass, Joe" and "Joe, you look like my ass." When you address somebody by name in a sentence, wandering_not_lost, you set the name off with commas.
posted by foursentences at 4:07 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Thanks Joe" is only correct if you are talking about a bunch of thanks in tomato sauce between two buns, making a sandwich of thanks.

As for adding the you, "Thank you, Joe" would still be correct.

If you're making a distinction between informal writing and formal writing, you can say that you don't care about speling or punc-tuation or Capitalization rules as well. And that's your right. The comma doesn't make it more formal; it just makes it right.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:22 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about this one (I am thanking Joe):

a) thank you Joe


b) thank you, Joe

How's that different from your original question? Or perhaps I should say, it's no different.
posted by amro at 4:30 PM on August 18, 2011

The distinction between formal and informal is in the difference betweeen "thank you" and "thanks." Either one receives a comma in the case you're asking about.
posted by argybarg at 4:31 PM on August 18, 2011

foursentences is correct. This has nothing (well, OK, maybe a little bit) to do with grammar pedantry. This has everything to do with existing and being properly understood in a culture in which people are communicating more and more frequently in text. If we don't respect some basic rules, how are we ever going to be able to understand each other in the future when all communication is forced to take place in snippets of 140 characters or fewer? (Think of the children!)

Example time! When I read a sentence like the following, it's like someone has placed pylons and caution tape directly in the path of my brain:

"Thank you Joe for your help, in telling me where to place the comma."

There are two comma errors in that sentence that I see all the time: the lack of commas to offset the name and the unnecessary comma separating what may seem to be a good place to break up the sentence for clarity. This is WRONG. (I realize you're not asking about the second kind of error, but it's something I see a lot and I thought I'd put it in for kicks.)

Commas DO NOT just mean a pause. Commas allow for sentence understanding and readability. I don't care how informal whatever you're writing is: if you want your sentence to be read the way you intend for it to, every time, then you must put a comma between thank you and Joe.
posted by phunniemee at 4:37 PM on August 18, 2011

(Obligatory disclaimer: I'm an editor, and this is a GRR ARGH pet peeve of mine, one that my authors get scolded for all the time. I am, as it turns out, totally overinvested in appropriate commas use.)

In all of your examples, you need the comma. You're addressing someone directly, and the comma is separating the address (Joe) from the rest of the sentence.

"Thanks, Joe."
"Joe, thanks so much."
"Thanks so much, Joe, I really appreciate the help."

Though the sentence meaning is usually clear even without the comma, there are many instances in which it's not. The most common example of late seems to be this one:

"Let's eat, Grandma!"
"Let's eat Grandma!"

One's a suggestion that hey, we should go sit at the table and have supper. The other is suggesting that we resort to cannibalizing our elders.

Another one that I saw recently on a food blog:

"It's just whey people!"

Which...what the hell's a whey person? With the comma, though, it becomes clear that you're saying no, people, it's cool, it's just whey. Nothing to worry about.

You're writing a very short, simple sentence, so it's easy to understand, even if it's written ungrammatically. That it can be comprehended, though, doesn't change the fact that it's incorrect and makes you look like either a very lazy or relatively uneducated writer. It's possible that in this instance, neither of those things matter to you, but it's arguable that developing good punctuation habits now will serve you well later.
posted by MeghanC at 8:30 PM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

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