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Should one use a vocative comma in phrases like "Alles gut, Hans?" or (to open an email) "Hallo, Maria"?

2 Answers 2

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Vocative is a grammatical case that does not exist in German as distinct case because the declension forms of vocative are always identical with that of nominative. But when there is a call to a person in a sentence where the subject or an object is in 2nd person, then you might say that this call is vocative. Like in this example

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, ich möchte Ihnen mitteilen, dass auch dieses Jahr Weihnachten wieder kurz vor Jahresende stattfindet.

The whole part before the comma (5 words) is the vocative part of this sentence. It is often at the beginning, but sometimes also somewhere else

Kannst du, liebe Brigitte, mir sagen, warum schon wieder keine Milch im Kühlschrank ist?

Wie geht es dir, Hans?

So this is also possible:

Ist alles gut, Hans?

or shorter

Alles gut, Hans?

Salutations are usually shortened versions of full sentences, so you also use the comma to separate the vocative part:

Guten Abend, Bernd. = Ich wünsche dir einen guten Abend, Bernd.

Grüß Gott, Herr Schuster. = Möge Sie Gott grüßen/segnen, Herr Schuster.

"Hallo", "Hej" etc. are also salutations, but not short versions of full sentences. But still you make a comma

Hej, Ilse, wie geht es dir?

But this is different when you write a salutation together with a vocative phrase in the first line of a letter. Then there only 1 comma at the end of the first line but no comma between salutation and vocative

Hallo Emil,
was hast du morgen vor?

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German requires a comma to separate the main part of a sentence from vocatives, interjections, and any other phrases that aren't part of grammatical structure. I'm pretty sure it's the same rule as in English. I guess technically "Hallo, Maria" doesn't have any sentence elements at all, but the custom seems to be to include a comma in this situation as well. It seems like this rule would be in in the Wikipedia article on comma rules, but I didn't see it there.

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    There is no comma in "Hallo Maria" used as a salutation. There is a comma after it.
    – user6495
    Oct 7, 2022 at 6:56
  • @Roland - Thanks, I missed that it was a salutation in the original question.
    – RDBury
    Oct 7, 2022 at 22:00

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