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In a salutation on a line by itself, which version is punctuated correctly?

Hi, Mr Lawler,

I am writing to say [...]

Hi Mr Lawler,

I am writing to say [...]

Hi, Mr Lawler.

I am writing to say [...]

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  • I have also seen semi-colons used.
    – IQAndreas
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 18:37
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    For business letters, there is a specific format which numerous online references will give you (you're supposed to use a colon). For informal letters, it's informal, which means you have much more flexibility in what you're allowed to do. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 18:45
  • I've never seen semicolons used. That's certainly a horse of a different color. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 19:45

1 Answer 1

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None of them are punctuated correctly, according to American English conventions, because abbreviations must be followed by a full stop. In British English, no full stop following Mr is perfectly fine, however.

According to the Purdue OWL, business letter, i.e. very formal, salutations must be followed by a colon (:). And the comma between the title and interjection depends on whether the noun is being directly addressed (or as you said: in the vocative case). So, Dear Mr. Lawler: requires no comma because it is an adjective modifying the noun, whereas Hello, Mr. Lawler: requires a comma because it is directly addressing the noun.

So, this would be the suggested usage, based on those guidelines:

Hi, Mr. Lawler:

I am writing to say [...]

The Purdue OWL also mentions a less common format, known as open punctuation, whereby no punctuation is present after the salutation and valediction:

Hi Mr Lawler

I am writing to say [...]

Thank you

[Your name]

Please note that "Hi" is can be interpreted as somewhat of an informal greeting and should probably be replaced by a more formal greeting like "Hello" or "Dear".

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    I find the use of Hi followed by Mr So & So strange. Hi is rather informal, and I would not use it with Mr So & So.
    – None
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 19:13
  • @Laure I agree. I was thinking of making a note of the fact that "Hi" is rather informal but I never did, since the question was only asking about punctuation.
    – Alex W
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 19:42
  • I always thought that if we used, say, "Hi, Mike", we'd need a comma after "Hi" or "Hello" because the name is a form of direct address and is in the vocative case. Hmmm. Interesting. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 19:44
  • I think the 'open punctuation' format looks really nice, clean and uncluttered. I don't know whether it would be accepted in formal circumstances, though. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 19:47
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    @whippoorwill You are correct about the vocative case. The OWL only omits the comma for "Dear". I have updated the answer with that new information.
    – Alex W
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 20:23

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