Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms - Definition and Examples

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A word or phrase used to address a reader or listener directly, usually in the form of a personal name, title, or term of endearment.

In speech, the vocative is indicated by intonation. A vocative at the beginning of an utterance is usually accented.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:


From the Latin, "call"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . .."
    (The Lord's Prayer)
  • "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"
    (Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 2, asking Romeo not where he is but why he's Romeo--that is, why he's a member of the Montague family)
  • "Lay your sleeping head, my love,
    Human on my faithless arm."
    (W.H. Auden, "Lullaby")
  • "And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray."
    (Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night")
  • "I do not walk the floor bowed down an' bent, but yet,
    Mama, you been on my mind."
    (Bob Dylan, "Mama, You Been on My Mind")
  • Gloucester: Good day, my lord. What, at your book so hard?

    King Henry VI: Ay, my good lord--my lord, I should say rather;
    'Tis sin to flatter; "good" was little better:
    "Good Gloucester" and "good devil" were alike,
    And both preposterous; therefore, not "good lord."
    (William Shakespeare, The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, Act V, scene 6)
  • "Flies are in your pea soup, baby;
    they're waving at me.
    Anything you want is yours now,
    only nothing's for free."
    (Scott English and Larry Weiss, "Hi Ho Silver Lining")
  • "Conversation commonly uses vocatives (address forms) for getting attention and managing interactions. . . . Vocatives often have an attitudinal function in addition to managing the discourse, especially for terms such as honey."
    (Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, & Geoffrey Leech, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson, 2002)
  • "Honey, can you squeeze me in?"
    (Garth Brooks, "Squeeze Me In")
  • "Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • Vocative With Terms of Abuse
    "With terms of abuse, whether mild or apparently deeply insulting, we must always remember that they can be turned into covert endearments if said in a particular way in a particular context. However, it is generally true to say that a vocative expression of the type 'you' + adjective + noun is more likely to be unfriendly than friendly.

    "Typical realizations of the formula would be: you bloody fool, you bloody swine, you cheeky sod, you dirty bastard, you lying bastard, you old cow, you stupid bitch. Often the adjective is omitted, 'you bastard,' 'you bitch,' 'you fool' being preferred."
    (Leslie Dunkling, A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address. Routledge, 1990)

    "Bobby could see blooms of blood in the scant hair on top of his head where the vase had clipped him.

    "'Mrs. Garfield, I assure you--'

    "'Assure this, you dirty bastard!' With the vase gone, there was nothing left on the table and so she picked up the table itself and threw it."
    (Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis. Simon & Schuster, 1999)

    Pronunciation: VOK-eh-tiv

    Also Known As: direct address