I grew up learning that the comma must be placed there, but it seems like an unnecessary interruption in a phrase that isn't ever spoken that way.
Commenting 12 years later… From the perspective of descriptive linguistics, I would say that "Thanks John" is used by native speakers, moreso "Thanks John!" When you use it, don't use a comma if in that context you wouldn't say it that way—if there would be no pause between "thanks" and "John", otherwise use a comma if there would be a pause.– James RayFeb 10 at 5:44
Dropping the comma is certainly in common usage, but it's not correct. I don't think we even get to the prescriptive/descriptive issue with this one, as the failure to use a comma in this way makes things significantly less readable.
It would be great if someone could give an official name to this comma. I've heard 'addressive comma' occasionally, but 'vocative comma' seems to be more common.
Check out the Vocative Case on Wikipedia, or see a couple of blogs which make good points about the necessity of this comma:
I guess the same would apply to "hi John". But in emails at least I rarely see the comma that grammatically would be expected there. And I actually prefer when there's no comma in these cases to keep it simple, as the message is clear anyway.– b.rothOct 21, 2012 at 11:36
It is acceptable to drop the comma.
Searching the following sources for "Thanks [noun]" (where possible), or "Thanks John" (where not) reveals that both are in extremely common use:
[Note that for the BNC you can search for either "thanks , [n]" or "thanks [n]" to find the word "thanks" followed by a noun.]
Most of the occurrences in the BNC appear to be in transcripts of spoken material, which one may wish to discount when considering this question, but even just looking at written material it is clear that both usages are very common.
As a teacher of grammar, I would say the comma is a requirement as the addressed person is not a part of the rest of the sentence and the comma marks this differentiation. I have always called it the vocative comma but then again I also teach Latin which actually has a vocative form for some nouns. That many people do not use the comma is not indicative of correctness, merely practice. After all, many of us tell lies but that does not mean that lying is correct!
2The main difference between lying and not using a comma in "Thanks, John", in your analogy, is that lying is a deliberate act of deception that often has negative consequences for the person being lied to, whereas dropping that comma is unlikely to have any negative consequences for the reader and is often not done deliberately. It's a poor analogy. Nov 9, 2011 at 10:10
The comma referred to in the question is between "Thanks" and "John". There is no "rest of the sentence". Having a comma there feels unnatural to me. Jun 22, 2021 at 7:34
The comma appears in the written language because if you were saying it there would naturally be a short pause there; you'd say "Thanks...John", rather than "ThanksJohn".
The comma only reflects the situations where it's spoken with an intonation change between "Thanks" and the name, which you normally wouldn't hear especially in exclamation, "Thanks John!". Mar 24, 2011 at 6:00
2@chim: Actually, I hear that comma in nearly every use of the phrase. I suspect different regional behavior is coming into play. Of note: Sometimes commas are "pronounced" with a change in tone. "THANKS john" could "sound" like a comma to some people.– MrHenMar 27, 2011 at 13:04
Having done secretarial work and typed for court reporters a good part of my life before retiring, I would just naturally put the comma there. I agree with the answers that state you would slightly pause after the name John, and this would require the comma.
The comma in the question is before the name John, not after it. I agree there should be a comma after the name if the sentence was to continue. Jun 22, 2021 at 7:36