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I am wondering whether it's necessary to use commas in the sentences below when addressing or introducing someone:

“You look after each other, okay children?"
“You look after each other, okay, children?

Which version would be better or are both fine depending on whether there is a pause in speech?

"I'll have a sparkling water, please, sir."

Should there be a comma before sir (or does it make the sentence stilted?) or should it be:

"I'll have a sparkling water, please sir."

Also,

"I turn to see my friend James Grand walking towards me."

Or should it be:

"I turn to see my friend, James Grand, walking towards me."

In the same vein:

"He and his elder sister Evie once looked after us..."

Or should it be:

"He and his elder sister, Evie, once looked after us..."

A similar question is regarding commas and the introduction of a name with the possessive:

"We are attending our friends', John and Crystal's, engagement party."

Or should it be:

"We are attending our friends John and Crystal's engagement party."

Any advice on these points would be greatly appreciated!

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Commas in dialogue indicate pauses. So:

“You look after each other, okay, children?"
"I'll have a sparkling water, please, sir."


Interrupter commas (I'm sure there's a technical name for this and I've forgotten it — something like restrictive and non-restrictive clauses) are used for clarification.

"He and his elder sister, Evie, once looked after us..."

This means he has one elder sister, and her name is Evie. (The name Evie is non-restrictive here; if you removed it, the sentence would be okay because he only has one elder sister.)

"He and his elder sister Evie once looked after us..."

This means he has multiple elder sisters, and the one named Evie was the one who looked after us. (The name Evie is restrictive here — he has more than one elder sister, and you must specify which one.)

Same idea:

"I turn to see my friend, James Grand, walking towards me."

This emphasizes my friend, and James Grand clarifies that friend instead of some other friend. Non-restrictive.

"I turn to see my friend James Grand walking towards me."

This emphasizes James Grand, and my friend is sort of his title. Restrictive.


"We are attending our friends John and Crystal's engagement party."

I hate trying to sort out multiple possessives. Rewrite the sentence:

We are attending the engagement party of our friends, John and Crystal.

  • Thanks so much for your comment, Lauren. For these 2 sentences: “You look after each other, okay, children?" "I'll have a sparkling water, please, sir." To me, it would sound much more natural without the pause between "okay children?" and "please sir", so that is why I feel like there shouldn't be one. What do you think? – MoniqueH Aug 1 '16 at 5:51
  • @MoniqueH Dialogue is more flexible than prose, but there is a wee pause between those pairs of words where the speaker is ending the thought and then tacking on the party being addressed. The comma really belongs there. If your character speaks in a heavy dialect or very poorly and all the character's dialogue is grammatically wrong, you could remove it because it would be consistent, but if the character speaks correctly, then leave the comma there. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Aug 1 '16 at 9:35
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Pauses in speech often coincide with grammatically correct comma placement, but do not necessarily do so. Using speech pauses as a rule for comma placement is a fallacy.

To quote Grammar Girl: "The 'put a comma everywhere you’d pause' idea is an unfortunately common myth."

To address your first specific example, I believe that the word "okay" is actually the start of a new sentence, and I believe that the correct structure would be either:

“You look after each other. Okay, children?"
or:
“You look after each other; okay, children?"

(semicolons may link two sentences together to show that are related)

For your second example,
"I'll have a sparkling water, please, sir." is correct.
The word "please" is non-restrictive, superfluous. The sentence works perfectly without it:
"I'll have a sparkling water, sir."
This means that the commas surrounding the "please" are necessary.

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