Oh, the comma, that little punctuation mark that packs a potent punch. It has the power to thoroughly transform the meaning of sentences and can single-handedly send grammarians into fits of rage. We won’t even get into the damage that one’s feelings about the Oxford comma can do to a relationship.
One area in which the comma often gets overlooked, however, is greetings and sign-offs. The misuse of commas is rampant in everything from a birthday wish on Facebook to the holiday cards in the mail. Here are some guidelines to help prevent you from adding to the problem.
When it comes to greetings and salutations (anyone else hear Christian Slater’s voice in Heathers uttering that phrase?), all too often the comma is nowhere to be found. Just take a look at Facebook on any given day, when hundreds of a user’s “friends” wish them a happy birthday or offer holiday greetings, and you’ll see their glaring absence.
Because you’re addressing a person directly, there should be a comma between the greeting and the person’s name.
Correct: Happy Birthday, Mary!
Incorrect: Happy Birthday Mary!
Correct: Merry Christmas, Smith Family!
Incorrect: Merry Christmas Smith Family!
They probably get the messages just fine, but the greeting without a comma could technically be read as a description of a very joyous person named “Birthday Mary” or the very jolly “Christmas Smith Family.”
Even if your wishes are less than festive, you still want your comma use to be on point. For example, if you’re channeling Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah, humbug” requires a comma, because you’re addressing a humbug.
Comma errors are also frequently found in the greetings of emails and holiday letters. While “Dear Charlie, …” is correct with just a comma after Charlie, if you go the less-formal route, it should be “Hi, Charlie,” with a comma between Hi and Charlie. It’s a bit confusing, but the difference is that dear is an adjective for John, while hi is an interjection and should be separated from the name by the comma.
Correct: Hi, Charlie
Incorrect: Hi Charlie,
If the sentence continues after the name, then you should also put a comma after the name. Otherwise, put a period after the name and continue to the next sentence.
When signing off, you always want a comma between your sign-off (aka your complimentary close) and the name(s) of the sender(s).
Incorrect: Best Wishes Mark, Mary, Sally, and Sam
Correct: Best Wishes, Mark, Mary, Sally, and Sam
Make sure, however, that if you’re signing off with a complete sentence, you use a period instead of a comma.
Correct: “I can’t wait to see you.”
Incorrect: “I can’t wait to see you,”
So, as the holiday season approaches, keep these tips in mind. While sending your warm wishes is the most important thing, if you’re going to do so, you might as well do it right.