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The correct way to use commas with names and titles

We use commas while combining multiple phrases in one sentence or writing about different items in a list. There are more usages of a comma, for example, how adding or removing comma before and after a name changes the meaning of the sentence — In this Grammar.com article we'll learn how to correctly use commas when referring to someone in a sentence.


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  Ramya Shankar  —  Grammar Tips
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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 clausewho 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.

Hope you liked the article. Write us any queries in the comment section below.

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12 Comments

  • Theo_TTV
    Although the title suggests this article addresses titles, titles are not addressed. For example, I.M. Author, B.A. P.Hd. or I.M. Author B.A. P.Hd. I think both may be correct but I use the comma. Thoughts?
    LikeReplyReport 117 days ago
    • Soulwriter
      Yes, as the two titles are a 'mini' list of qualifications, a comma is the correct way to go. We're adding an article specifically addressing commas following titles, shortly.
      LikeReplyReport10 days ago
  • Solzhenitsyn
    I have a question about the second case in this article: "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." Would the commas around the clause that starts with "who" be actually essential, as opposed to non-essential? As I understand this clause should be separated by commas, as it provides additional information about the subject of the sentence. If the author mentioned that the commas are not essential, then why were they left in the example? Unless I'm misunderstanding the terms "essential" and "non-essential," there's a little bit of confusion here. Thoughts? 
    LikeReplyReport 121 days ago
    • Soulwriter
      Thanks for your well-phrased and thoughtful question! I believe the words 'essential/non essential' are the cause for confusion and we'll edit the article accordingly.
      LikeReplyReport 110 days ago
    • Soulwriter
      By way of an answer, the author wishes to convey that the sentence, 'My friend John, who is a better painter than me, can do the walls for your home.' with the clause, 'who is a better painter than me,' can be grammatically accurate both with and without the commas. Having said this, using commas before and after the clause, 'who is a better painter than me,' makes the sentence read, and sound, better. Let's call the, 'highly recommended', rather than essential. :) Hope this helps! Have a great day ahead! 
      LikeReplyReport 210 days ago
    • Solzhenitsyn
      I would agree, and it looks syntactically better. Thank you for the reply!
      LikeReplyReport9 days ago
  • markr.01891
    "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." These sentences do not convey the same thing. The second example of 'My friend John is a good painter' is correct as the writer is talking about one of his/her friends out of several friends whose name is John. This is fine. However, the second sentence of 'My friend, John, is a good painter' is different because the commas become appositive commas, and mean the writer is talking about his/her one and only friend who is called John. 
    LikeReplyReport 25 months ago
  • larrym.36882
    'my twin brother, Martin' or 'my twin brother Martin' Which of these is correct, or why would I use one and not the other?
    LikeReplyReport7 months ago
    • markr.01891
      If you write 'My twin brother Martin won a prize' then you are talking about one twin brother out of many. We can assume you only have one twin brother, so this would be the incorrect way to write it. If you write 'My twin brother, Martin, won a prize', then you are using what's known as appositive commas, and in this case the meaning is that you are talking about your only twin brother, which would be correct. 
      LikeReplyReport5 months ago
  • mriecleo_m
    Is it necessary to put a comma before the name for the examples below: Happy new year, Farrah! Thanks for waiting, Gary. We will give you an update within the day.
    LikeReplyReport8 months ago
  • susannah_v
    Would this be correct? "Lily made Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert"
    LikeReplyReport10 months ago
  • Luisa Martin
    Is a comma necessary in a sentence like: Girl, have you been to Japon? They serve amazing sushi. Is the comma after girl necessary? I know it is when saying names, but what about girl or boy?
    LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
  • Richard Hayes
    "This would mean the speaker is telling about John to Tina (the friend)."
    LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
  • Ann May Pittam
    I was looking at this as a source for my students and noticed first that "focusing" was spelled wrong, and then that you didn't capitalize all of the important words in the title of Hosseini's book. That title is supposed to be italicized, too. So, I'm thinking I'm not going to look to this source to provide grammar advice. 
    LikeReplyReport 91 year ago
    • melanie_u
      Focussing is correct in British English. Maybe you should be aware that there are different spellings between British and American English but I agree with you wholeheartedly about the title of the book.
      LikeReplyReport 12 months ago
  • Cheryl Ciolino
    “who is a better painter than me” is incorrect. “who is a better painter than I” is correct because the “am” is understood.
    LikeReplyReport 101 year ago
  • Chris Farrington
    How about this. "My wife Susan and I founded our company in 2012." Do you put commas around "Susan?" Then it starts to look like three people founded the company: My wife, Susan, and me. Confusing.
    LikeReplyReport 51 year ago
    • Anna Carlisle
      THIS was the example I was hoping to find here but did not. I remember a comma rule that clarifies if you would only have one wife who is Susan or multiple wives of which Susan is one, but can't remember which way the commas go. 
      LikeReplyReport 41 year ago
  • Orglaz Notif
    How about, "You will have an opportunity to personally meet with BSAA Regional Director John Smith at the BSAA offices in Anytown, NY." Do you need a comma after Director?
    LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
    • Brooke Lewis
      No, you wouldn't use a comma since the title is being treated as part of his name.
      LikeReplyReport 31 year ago
    • Kym Utah
      Sure? What's the difference between this question and the Case 3 example?
      LikeReplyReport1 year ago
    • El Rey
      Kym Utah The case 3 example is wrong. It should read 'The distinguished scientist Mr Stephen, of AKL University, will be addressing the crowd tomorrow.' Or better yet, drop the 'The' too.
      LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
    • Sybrash
      , And, there is but another possibility. I read elsewhere that you only need commas if the name is not necessary to identify the person. For example: My brother, John, stopped by this evening. vs My brother John stopped by this evening. In the former I have only one brother. You could take out John and one would still know who I was talking about. In the latter, it is identifying which of my brothers stopped by. There are no commas because the info contained within commas is unnecessary information that could be removed. If you removed John from the second situation, you wouldn't know which of my brothers stopped by. According to this rule, you would not use commas unless he was the only Regional Director which, by nature of "Regional" in the title, I would say he is not. Now if it said North Regional Director, then that would identify the person and you could then put his name in commas. 
      LikeReplyReport5 months ago

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