I was wondering which one of these sentences is correct. In the first example, the name of the person we are directly addressing is placed between commas, just as I was taught since forever. In the second, I omitted the comma before the direct address in favor of making the text look cleaner; also, when I read the sentence out loud, I do not pause before saying 'John' (plus, my grammar checker marked the first instance as complex punctuation).

I didn't want to say this out loud, but, John, you must leave.

I didn't want to say this out loud, but John, you must leave.

Another example:

Oh, and, Elizabeth? Can you please go and fetch the bags?

Oh, and Elizabeth? Can you please go and fetch the bags?

If it turns out that the second examples are correct/preferred, then I would appreciate it a lot if someone included some other phrases with words that may also not require a comma between them and the name of the person whom we are addressing. Thanks a lot in advance.

  • 1) grammar and spelling/punctuation checkers are not perfect. 2) In the first example, the name John is an aside. in the second, Elizabeth is not an aside.
    – Mitch
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:58
  • So, that means that in the 'John' example, the comma was supposed to be there, and in the 'Elizabeth' one, it wasn't?
    – user462842
    Aug 30, 2022 at 20:54
  • Definitely no extra comma with Elizabeth. It may be optional with John. But I don't feel authoritative on this so I am not answering.
    – Mitch
    Aug 31, 2022 at 15:06
  • @Mitch I, for one, how no idea how you arrive at that difference. Can you say how and why in the first example, John is an aside but in the second, Elizabeth is not? Sep 1, 2022 at 20:08
  • @RobbieGoodwin "but you must leave." sounds like 'John' is being inserted. "and Elizabeth" doesn't sound like it is being inserted (actually it can't) into "Can you go?". But alternate intentions and parsings are possible I suppose.
    – Mitch
    Sep 1, 2022 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


All your examples could be happily be justified and equally, all of them could be shot down… according to the critic's own opinions.

There are no universal rules for the use of commas in modern English.

There were no universal rules in the past, either.

Who doubts that if Chaucer or Shakespeare, Dickens or their contemporaries followed any rules, those rules were their own and not their society's or community's in general?

Those three might have used commas to express differences in the flow of thought where today, we try to use them to express pauses in speech… and who can explain the difference, let alone lay down rules for it?

If I'd written "… differences in the flow of thought, where today,…" with a second comma, what rule would make one more right?

  • 1
    Yep, first and foremost the comma represents a pause. It may also be used to separate fragments of the speech, but such separation would generally have a pause.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 1, 2022 at 20:40

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