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You Email Greeting Lines Are Wrong, And What Is Even Reality Anymore?

The universe is a lie. And grammar Nazi porn.

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RE: BUZZFEED LIFESTYLE WRITER

You start to type an email, and it probably looks something like the below.

Tony Andrews

I'll bet you structure your email greeting lines this way.

Nothing to see there, right? Wrong.

It's true.
imageflip.com / Via imgflip.com

It's true.

Here's why.

When a person is being addressed in English, the person's name takes what's called the "vocative" case. The vocative case—as in email greetings, for exampe—requires that the person's name being addressed be marked off with a comma.

So, your email greeting line should actually look like this:

Tony Andrews

It may look "wrong," but it's technically correct.

This pervasive error likely grew out of a misunderstanding of traditional letter greeting lines, which look like this:

Giphy.com / Via giphy.com

But there's a key difference here.

The difference is that "hi" isn't an adjective like "dear" is.

giphy.com / Via dictionary.com

It's an interjection that takes the form of a greeting. While "dear" describes Edna, and therefore shouldn't be separated by a comma, "hi" addresses Edna, so a comma is required to separate the two.

"Why is there a period after the greeting line rather than a comma?" you ask.

giphy.com / Via giphy.com

It's a convention of letter writing that the greeting line be followed by a space, but a comma does NOT have to precede that space! A period will do just fine.

"But how can 'Hi, Barry.' be a complete sentence? It doesn't even have a verb!" you ask.

giphy.com / Via ell.stackexchange.com

It is a complete sentence because you can think of it as an abbreviated version of: "I say hi to you, Barry." There's your subject and predicate! If "Hi, Barry" were followed by a comma rather than a period, that would actually be a comma splice, which is when two separate sentences are separated by a comma rather than a period.

"Wait, but why is 'Dear Barry' followed by a comma?" you ask

giphy.com / Via comma.guide

Because "Dear Barry" is an entire noun phrase that's part of the ensuing sentence; "Dear Barry" is the person being addressed by the rest of the sentence on the line below. It's in the vocative case, so it's set off by a comma, but it's part of the sentence nonetheless.

To tie it all together, here are two grammatically correct versions of the two popular greetings:

giphy.com / Via giphy.com

Hi, Barry. Is it cool if I call you Barry?

Dear Barry, is it cool if I call you Barry?

The only difference in formatting between the above sentences and actual emails is that in emails, the writer typically enters text after the greeting:

Hi, Barry.

Is it cool if I call you Barry?

Dear Barry,

Is it cool if I call you Barry?

I know what you're thinking: I must be a blast a parties.

Me at my birthday.
knowyourmeme.com / Via google.com

Me at my birthday.

Or maybe—just maybe—you're thinking that if your email greeting lines have been wrong all this time, the very fabric of reality itself is in question.

giphy.com / Via giphy.com

"Pikachu." - Pikachu

Or maybe you'd counter that language usage and grammar evolve over time, and that if 99% of people structure email greeting lines a certain way, then that's what's right.

"This guy's a nerd. Let's go beat him up!"

  1. How will you format your email greeting lines going forward?

    Correct
    Incorrect
    Hi, Barry.
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Hi Barry,
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Neither. I'm post-email.
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How will you format your email greeting lines going forward?
  1.  
    vote votes
    Hi, Barry.
  2.  
    vote votes
    Hi Barry,
  3.  
    vote votes
    Neither. I'm post-email.
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