Specifically, the at-symbol as used e.g. on Twitter or Github (or many other sites besides), e.g. '@somename, what do you think about this?' or '@foobar, I'm waiting!' Comparing it with English/German 'o' and the Japanese よ (yo) (which are of course quite strongly marked), in the sentences above it would be possible to use these to similar effect. And while one might consider being notified on those platforms a similar effect to the extra emphasis the vocative puts on the addressee, @ing certainly also works and is used in places where it performs no other function but clearly marking the addressee. (@steph, do you want to grab dinner tonight?)

Are there reasons to not consider it a vocative marker?

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    I would consider it a preposition, rather than a vocative marker – it’s essentially equivalent to ‘to’ (“to somename: what do you think about this?”). Except of course in cases where it should just be ignored, as in “I wonder what @somename thinks about this”. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 11:40
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Substituting "to" would ruin the sentence in most cases. And your last example is actually a good example of it not being vocative since it would be very odd to combine that with third person. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 13:52
  • @LukeSawczak Yes, as I said, in some cases it clearly has no meaning, since it combines with absolutely any syntactic role. In the cases that are being asked about, though, substituting ‘to’ does not ruin the sentence. It is already commonly read ‘at’ in those contexts, and changing that to ‘to’ simply makes it more idiomatic, nothing else. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 14:00
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    @JanusBahsJacquet The point is not that it should be pronounced "at" instead of "to", but that it might be an intuitive written reflex of a zero-morpheme vocative case. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 17:30
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    The “We had dinner \@OliveGarden tonight” example is something completely different and both unrelated and irrelevant. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


Maybe, maybe not, you'll have to do the research on usage. You could consider the exclamation mark to be a vocative marker, in an extended sense of "vocative" (usually a marking of nouns). Is it in fact used only for identifying the addressee? That might be the most common correlation, but its function is not to label the addressee, it is to identify which person's post is being addressed (in an unthreaded list of comments), and the author may have no intent to address that person. This is really a research question for communications specialists.


I don't think its anything at any point, it's just to differentiate between words and usernames and has to do with the software and frankly nothing to do with grammar. You could remove it and it would just mean the same thing. Sometimes it is used with the username separately before the sentence, but in this case the username is not part of the sentence and is only added to alert the recipient. There's no question of it having any grammatical purpose, it is solely to do with the software.

  • It's not significant that you could remove it without changing the meaning, and you also seem to forget that people do this even when it doesn't work on the platform. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 13:50
  • @LukeSawczak Force of habit and literally nothing else Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 14:07
  • Are you describing this use of @, or all of language? Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 14:34
  • @LukeSawczak use of @ Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 18:23

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