I am proofreading someone's work of fiction, and I'm trying to determine the best way to punctuate a sentence like the following. I typically follow the Chicago Style Guide, but I couldn't find this specific situation addressed.

The general faced the two men.

"Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, what are you men doing here?"

When addressing multiple people at the start of a sentence, are the commas I used correct? I briefly considered ellipses, but that doesn't seem correct grammatically.

  • Why add men in the first place when it's redundant? How about Messrs. Smith and Jones, what are you/ the two of you doing here?
    – user405662
    Nov 5, 2021 at 18:14
  • Honestly, the "men" was just an example. The author feels very strongly about starting the sentence in a way the general would speak. This is a real-life example of dialogue, such as when a person addresses people they are speaking to, then asks a question of them. The crux of the question is how to punctuate multiple names at the start of a sentence, regardless of what dialogue comes after. I know that if this were a sentence that wasn't dialogue, the "and" you added would be appropriate. But this is not how someone would speak when addressing people.
    – QuantumBuc
    Nov 5, 2021 at 18:19
  • Why do you think that anybody could argue that the punctuation is not correct? The sentence seems to be obviously OK (taking into account that it is intended to embody a particular style of speaking), in the absence of some specific reason to think that it isn't.
    – jsw29
    Nov 5, 2021 at 18:34
  • The example seems perfectly fine. I would not use Messrs unless there is some sort of association between the two men (apart from both being addressed), because of its typical use in the title of a business. I have never heard anyone using Messrs when addressing people. Nov 5, 2021 at 18:34
  • Are Smith and Jones military personnel subordinate to 'the general'? If so, he probably would not call them 'Mr'. Nov 5, 2021 at 18:37

1 Answer 1


Your version is correct. It's the same as if you said, "Dave, Brian, what are you men doing here?" The titles ("Mr.") don't change this. Especially since your priority is verisimilitude in dialogue, given that you're editing fiction, it makes sense to use this simple, intuitive structure. "Messrs. Smith and Jones, what are you/the two of you doing here?" is also grammatically correct, but it's not realistic dialogue.

  • Hello, Eira. ELU welcomes answers supported by respectable references, linked and attributed. Answers lacking these come across as (and may merely be) opinion (and have been known to be erroneous). Nov 5, 2021 at 19:05

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