Awkward Hugs

Should You Include a Comma After Hi, Hello, and Dear?

If you ask any other grammar website out there, they’ll tell you that you need a comma after hi and hello, but not after dear. We’re here to tell you that, while technically correct, you’ll sound like a tool if you start off your email with

Hi, Henry,

This is one of those things that’s done wrong so often that it looks wrong when you do it right.

A couple hundred years ago, you couldn’t whip out your phone and start typing an email with your thumbs. Because sending a letter took a lot of effort, the people you were writing to were often dear to you. Hence the opening that we all learned in grade school:

Dear Henry,

There’s no comma after dear there, but that’s intentional. Dear is an adjective modifying Henry — Henry is Dear to us, or at least we’re pretending that he is — and you don’t have to put a comma after a modifying adjective.

Because of email’s history (as you know, the word is short for electronic mail) we tend to follow the same rules that we would follow when writing a letter. But, these days, we’re sending out dozens of emails a day, mostly to people who aren’t all that dear to us. So, we leave the comma where it was, while swapping out the dear for a hello, hi, hey, or even howdy.

Hi Henry,

Is that correct? No. But is it allowed? Yes.

One caveat: If you’re emailing your English teacher, a potential employer, or an uptight grammar nerd, you should avoid the issue altogether by dropping the hi:

Henry,

And, if you’re emailing your grandmother, go with dear because she is actually dear to you. Better yet, put down your phone and go visit her. She’s a wonderful lady.