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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 article we'll learn how to correctly use commas when referring to someone in a sentence.

2:49 min read
  Ramya Shankar  —  Grammar Tips
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Case 1

Look at the sentences below –

  • • My friend John, is a good painter.
  • • 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 sentences below. Both sentences are correct, but they do not convey the same thing.

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

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

The use of commas in this sentence implies that I only have ONE friend – John- so his name is non-essential and could be left out. That is, I can say, "My friend is a good painter," and you would know that I mean John since he is the only friend I have.

“My friend John is a good painter. “

No commas imply I have more than one friend, so I need to specify John's name as essential information, ensuring that you understand that he is the friend I am referring to.

commas with names

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.

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:

    ü  Where the sentence is focusing on a particular person.

    ü  While introducing a person.

    ü  Where the clause before/after the name is not essential.

Few more examples

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

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  • misty_h
    This article is incorrect and should NOT be used as reference. The commas are providing information and are not there just for emphasis as the author claims - at least this is true in American and British English writing. Any of our writing style guides, Chicago Manual of Style, AP, AMA, etc, will discredit what she's written. Using her example:

    My friend John is a good painter. (No commas imply I have more than one friend so I need John's name as essential information that he is the friend I am referring to.)

    My friend, John, is a good painter. (Commas imply I only have ONE friend so his name is non-essential and could be left out. Basically, if I said, "My friend is a good painter," you'd know I mean John since he's the only friend I have.)

    This makes more sense with family members of course:
    My mother, Joan, is an avid gardener. ( I only have one mother so her name can be left out and you'd know who I mean.)

    My sister Betty likes cookies. (I have more than one sister, so I need Betty's name included so you know which one I'm referring to.)

    My sister, Betty, likes cookies. (I just have one sister, so her name can be omitted -My sister likes cookies- and you'd still know it's Betty I'm referring to because she's my only sister.)

    I'm a professional editor/proofreader, so these erroneous articles really tick me off. Please update so it's accurate.
    LikeReply 61 year ago
    • teril
      Hi Misty! The article has been corrected to reflect your valuable feedback. Thanks for being an alert and active part of our community.
      LikeReply 41 year ago
    • Solzhenitsyn

      Just to make sure, are you disagreeing or agreeing with the author that the use or lack of commas around "John" gives us information about the amount of friends the speaker has?

      I personally do not see how having commas around "John" says that he is the only friend of the speaker. Both of the following sentences simply state that the speaker has a friend named John, but I am still not clear on how the commas (or lack thereof) tells us about the quantity of the speakers friends. I'd argue that neither of the provided examples do that. Same with the "sister Betty" examples: I, as a reader, still would not know how many sisters the speaker has regardless of the comma placement. Such information would only be clear to a reader that knows the speaker well.

      It seems that the commas around Betty (or John) have a dual function and are not a good indicator for the amount of sisters (or friends) of the speaker:

      It could(!) mean that the speaker has more than one sister and is being specific as to which one is being referred to, but not necessarily the case as the the speaker could also just be providing the name (additional information) to an audience unfamiliar with the speaker's sister's name.

      I hope we are on the same page (no pun intended), but I am not sure.

      I do agree that the commas around a name provide specific (clarifying) and/or non-essential information (as in the case of naming a parent).


      Does my argument make sense? What are your thoughts? :)

      At any rate, the section in the article about John the painter made no sense, so I am trying to see what your stance is.

      Thank you!
      LikeReply 11 year ago
    • misty_h
      Hi! I agree with you that it can be confusing, especially concerning not knowing how many siblings, friends, etc. a person has based solely on the comma placements. But, provided the writer knows their grammar rules, as does the reader, we're able to interpret and glean additional unstated information off the simple use of neat is that?

      So, that being said, these commas are related to restricted/nonrestricted appositives.

      If you read a sentence that says, "My cat Oreo loves to go outside," you would be able to interpret that this person has more than one cat because there are no commas around the name Oreo. Oreo is essential information and can't be left out or you wouldn't know which cat was being referred to. (restrictive appositive = no commas)

      So, if we use the same sentence but add commas: "My cat, Oreo, loves to go outside," the commas are telling you "Hey, this person only has one cat, its name is Oreo, and it likes to go outside." You could leave Oreo out of the sentence, "My cat loves to go outside," and you'd still know the writer is obviously referring to Oreo because that's her only kitty. (nonrestrictive appositive = commas)

      Another example would be, as you stated, inserting essential or non-essential information such as:

      "My third grade teacher, Mrs. Westbury, was a real hoot." We put commas around her name because it's not essential. We'd know my third grade teacher was a hoot -with or without her name added. The name is just additional information - nice to have but not necessary for clarity.

      But if I say, "My teacher was a hoot." you'd ask, "Which one?" There's not enough of a clarifying description in that sentence, so I'd either need to add more information (such as 'third grade teacher'), or insert the name of the teacher I am directly referring to, which makes their name essential information (so no commas): "My teacher Mrs. Westbury was a hoot."

      It's all learned. We, of course, don't know these right off the bat, and honestly, many writers these days disregard these rules, which is an unfortunate devolution of our grammar (in my grammar-nerd opinion). But when done correctly, it's like deciphering a magical code LOL. That's why I get a bit perturbed when I see sites write that these restrictive/nonrestrictive commas are just for decoration (either use 2 commas for balance or none at all, lalala...WRONG). There is a reason for them! It's just up to us to educate ourselves on why they are (or are not) there.

      From the comment below mine, it seems this article has been updated since my original post, so a lot has changed. I agree with you though - the case 2 about John the painter still doesn't make sense. You use the comma after John's name to set off the 'who clause' which is providing additional information about John (he's a better painter than me). It's nonessential information so it could be left out and the sentence would
      LikeReply 31 year ago
  • t0xic_angel
    A comma would go before the name...right?
    That's nothing to sneeze Dani."
    LikeReply1 year ago
  • JazziG123
    Which one is proper for my Title page?

    Research Study on America’s Founder of Contraception,
    Margaret Sanger


    Research Study on America’s Founder of Contraception
    -Margaret Sanger-


    Something else? Please help, thank you!
    LikeReply2 years ago
  • Editor72
    The "Jim's sister, Jane" example above is accurate ONLY if Jane is Jim's only sister. If he has multiple sisters, the name "Jane" is essential information (you need it to know which sister is being referred to), and no commas are used in that case. 
    LikeReply 42 years ago
  • ElaineT
    When writing to a family, would you say, "Dear Erin, Kevin, Tommy, Clare, and Caroline? Since Clare and Caroling are individuals, do you separate them by a comma?
    LikeReply 22 years ago
    • Soulwriter
      Thanks for the question! This is known as a 'serial comma' or the 'Oxford comma'.
      See more info here:‑-red-white-and-blue
      In short, it can be used, or omitted - either way is acceptable when writing casually - ie. not for a particular publisher or academic article 
      LikeReply 12 years ago
    • ElaineT
      I went to Catholic school in the '50's and we were taught this way. Gosh, what fabulous educators we had. We didn't learn what the kids learn today but we learned Math, Grammar, Literature, History (which taught us NOT to repeat the mistakes of the past), Geography, Penmanship, and more. 
      LikeReply 12 years ago
  • mikew.41349
    Would one use commas to offset a list of names? E.g. - My friends, John, Sarah, and Pat, are good painters.
    LikeReply 22 years ago
    • Soulwriter
      Good question - the answer is you would not. No comma friends: 'My friends John, Sarah etc.
      In the singular yes: 'My friend, John, is a good painter.'
      LikeReply2 years ago
  • 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?
    LikeReply 22 years 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.
      LikeReply2 years 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.

    LikeReply 12 years 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.
      LikeReply 12 years 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!
      LikeReply 22 years ago
    • Solzhenitsyn
      I would agree, and it looks syntactically better.

      Thank you for the reply!
      LikeReply 12 years 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.
    LikeReply 53 years ago
    • Sybrash
      LikeReply 53 years 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?
    LikeReply3 years 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.
      LikeReply 13 years 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.
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • susannah_v
    Would this be correct?

    "Lily made Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert"
    LikeReply3 years ago
  • Luisa Martin
    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?
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Richard Hayes
    Richard Hayes
    "This would mean the speaker is telling about John to Tina (the friend)."
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Ann May Pittam
    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. 
    LikeReply 94 years 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.
      LikeReply 22 years ago
  • Cheryl Ciolino
    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.
    LikeReply 134 years ago
  • Chris Farrington
    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.
    LikeReply 54 years ago
    • Anna Carlisle
      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. 
      LikeReply 43 years ago
  • Orglaz Notif
    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?
    LikeReply 14 years ago
    • Brooke Lewis
      Brooke Lewis
      No, you wouldn't use a comma since the title is being treated as part of his name.
      LikeReply 34 years ago
    • Kym Utah
      Kym Utah
      Sure? What's the difference between this question and the Case 3 example?
      LikeReply4 years ago
    • El Rey
      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.
      LikeReply 14 years 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. 
      LikeReply3 years ago


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