The correct way to use commas with names and titles

  ramyashankar  —  Grammar Tips

Case 1

Look at the sentences below –

1.       My friend John, is a good painter.

2.      My friend, John is a good painter.

Which of these sentences has the commas placed correctly? The answer is: neither of them!

Sentence 1 is grammatically incorrect.

In sentence 2 it is not clear whether the speaker is referring to John as his friend, or the person he is talking to as his friend. To understand this better, let us replace My friend with a name in sentence 2 – Tina, John is a good painter.

This would mean the speaker is addressing Tina (the friend) when speaking about John.

Now consider the below sentences –

3.       My friend, John, is a good painter.

4.       My friend John is a good painter.

Both these sentences are correct and convey the same thing. The rule is – either have the commas both before and after a name, or don’t add it at all. This is because the sentence is talking about a particular person John. The addition of commas gives extra emphasis to the name.

Case 2

Look at the below sentence –

·     My friend John, who is a better painter than me, can do the walls for your home.

Here the comma is not essential because the clause beginning with who, does not identify John. Note that even without the clause ‘who is a better painter than me’, the sentence is grammatically correct and conveys the message.

Case 3

While introducing someone, we use commas.

·         This is Jane, my sister.

·         The distinguished scientist, Mr. Stephen, of AKL University, will be addressing the audience tomorrow.

In the second sentence, the comma before and after the name indicates we are talking about a specific scientist of AKL University. The comma after the name also tells us that the information after the name is essential to identify the person.

As we see, the main instances where commas are necessary when referring to someone in a phrase are:

üWhere the sentence is focusing on a particular person.

üWhile introducing a person

üWhere the clause before/after the name is not essential.

Few more examples –

·         The mystery of the lost pencil has to be solved by Jim’s sister, Jane.

·         My cousin Tom, who won a free trip to Maldives, is leaving tomorrow.

·         I couldn’t complete the assignment alone, so I called my friend Sumy, who is faster and more knowledgeable.

·         Thankfully, Sumy could come and help me.

·         She was reading a book, A thousand splendid suns, which is quite a classic read.

·         A Thousand Splendid Suns, authored by Khaled Hosseini, is a fantastic novel.

·         This is Monica, my colleague.

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