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My colleague and I disagree on how to open a letter; he believes you should separate the salutation from the name, like so:

"Hi, John"

I think this is nonsense and that the comma should go at the end, like so:

"Hi John,"

Is there a formal definition/right answer?

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If you're going to use Hi you've already dispensed with formality! –  Andrew Leach May 15 '13 at 11:27
    
That's a good point! –  Chris Hansen May 15 '13 at 11:28
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And I certainly would NOT start a letter - as distinct from an e-mail - in that manner. But, NO I would not put in a comma. If you came up to John and said "Hi John" to him, would you pause between the two words? If not, it doesn't require a comma. –  TrevorD May 15 '13 at 11:34
    
You mean I may no longer start a letter or email with "Hi, John:"? –  rhetorician May 15 '13 at 14:18
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The "proper way" to write it is "Hi, John. How are you?" if everything is on the same line, and "Hi, John, //[NEW LINE]// How are you?" if the salutation is on one line and the body of the message begins on the next line. Calling something "nonsense" is merely an expression of a personal opinion, just as is calling something "proper" or "correct", unless you're bound by law or custom to follow certain rules. In the military, there are correct & incorrect ways of composing documents like letters. In the law courts as well. For emails & personal letters, there are none. Clarity is all here. –  user21497 May 15 '13 at 15:19
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marked as duplicate by MετάEd, aedia λ, kiamlaluno, Andrew Leach, Hellion May 16 '13 at 14:59

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2 Answers

I have never come across the "[salutation], [name]," format and it looks very strange to me. Certainly it is not the normal way to start a letter or email. "[salutation] [name]," is more normal. (I do not believe the former is correct, but cannot cite any sources to back me up at present)

Generally, a comma should only be used where you would pause if speaking (or reading the letter aloud). Since you would not normally pause between the salutation and the name, a comma should only be used to artificially introduce a pause there. Thus a comma is not normally used.

The comma at the end of the line is a different matter. It does not follow normal rules of grammar (in any other sentence or paragraph a full stop/period would be used) and is used only by tradition. For what it's worth, this varies in other languages; Spanish, for example, ends the first line of a letter with a colon, as in "[salutaion] [name]:".

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You need both commas. This isn't the era of metal type when you had to worry about running out.

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why do you need either? –  Matt Эллен May 15 '13 at 11:56
    
I'm not sure what you mean by needing both? –  Chris Hansen May 15 '13 at 12:13
    
One comma to separate the interjection from the addressee. Another to close the greeting. –  gmcgath May 15 '13 at 20:22
    
@gmcgath You still haven't answered the question of Why do you need both commas (in your opinion)? –  TrevorD May 16 '13 at 11:59
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