Grammar Chaos: Credit Where It’s Due—Discussing the Vocative Case

Posted on Apr 26, 2017

Reader, I bet I can tell you about something in English that you haven't thought about until now.

What is a Vocative Comma by

We’re all familiar about the subject and the predicate. We know what verbs, adjectives, and adverbs do, but I bet, dear reader, that you haven’t thought about this one thing about sentences until now.

I bet you don’t know what you call the noun you directly address in a sentence. And no, they’re not an object. Dear reader, that is what you call a vocative. If you haven’t noticed, it’s what I have been doing from the beginning of this article.

When you use a phrase or word to address a reader (or listener) directly, the noun is said to be in the vocative case. The word “vocative” has its roots in the Latin word for “call,” which makes perfect sense since technically, you are calling the attention of someone (or something).

Here are some popular examples of vocatives:

  “O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” —Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  Romeo is being addressed by Juliet. Therefore, the word “Romeo” is in the vocative case.

  “Papa, can you hear me? Papa, can you see me? Papa, can you find me in the night?” —Barbra Streisand,   Yentl

The vocative case is easy enough to understand, and really, the use of the term itself is usually for linguistic purposes. The vocative is also a powerful tool in literature and in speech-making as a way to reel audience.

Notice that when using a vocative, the word or phrase is always separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma (or commas, if the vocative is in the middle). This is to emphasize that the vocative is not part of the message that the sentence is trying to convey. Here is another example to better illustrate it:

  “There’s no need to call me sir.” The sentence implies that there is no need for the reader or listener to   address the speaker “sir.” On the other hand...

  “There’s no need to call me, sir.” This sentence implies that the speaker is talking to someone whom he   refers to as sir, and that this “sir” doesn’t have to call him.

Vocatives can be used in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, but when using a vocative at the beginning of a sentence, an accent is often use to emphasize separation.

Want more fun English trivia? Check back with us every week for more grammar chaos!


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