Vocatives : English Glossary

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Vocatives : English Glossary

A vocative — an addressed person's name or substitute name — is often a single word but sometimes takes the form of a noun phrase. A vocative is always treated as a parenthetical element and is thus set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (if it appears within the flow of a sentence). When vocatives are proper nouns (usually the case), they are also referred to as "nouns of address." Vocatives are like adverbs: they can pop up almost anywhere in the sentence. Do not, however, get into the habit of throwing commas at people's names; unless the name refers to someone who is actually being addressed, it is not a vocative and will not necessarily be parenthetical:

  • He told Jorge to turn the boat around.
  • Jorge, turn the boat around
Quirk and Greenbaum enumerate four different kinds of vocatives:
  1. Single names, with or without a title: Jorge, Mr. Valdez, Dr. Valdez, Uncle, Grandma. Dr. Valdez, will you please address the graduates?
  2. The personal pronoun you (not a polite form of address): You, put down that gun! The second person pronoun is sometimes combined with other words (but the result is often rather rude and is never used in formal prose ["You over there, hurry up!" "You with the purple hair and silver nose rings, get back in line!"]) The indefinite pronouns can also serve as a vocative: Call an ambulance, somebody! Quick, anybody! Give me a hand!
  3. Appellatives (what we call people) of endearment ("Darling," "Sweetheart," "My dear," "Love") Come sit next to me, my dear.; of respect ("Sir," "Madam," "Your Honor," "Ladies and gentlemen") I would ask you, Sir, never to do that again.; of profession or status ("Professor," "Mr. President," "Madam Chairman," "Coach") Please, Coach, let me play for a while.
  4. Nominal clause: Whoever is making that noise, stop it now.

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