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ADVERBS with prefix a-

Adverbs with prefix a-: (1) Before nouns. In these adverbs the a- represents some preposition, as "in," "on," "of," &c. contracted by rapidity of pronunciation. As might be expected, the contraction is mostly found in the prepositional phrases that are in most common use, and therefore most likely to be rapidly pronounced. Thus (Coriol. iii. 1. 261-2) Menenius says: "I would they were in Tiber," while the Patrician, "I would they were a-bed." Here a- means "in," as in the following:

“3d Fisherman. Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
1st Fisherman. Why, as men do a-land.

A- is also used where we should now use "at." Compare, however, O. E. "on work."

“Sets him new a-work.

; Lear iii. 5. 8. So R. of L. 1496. And compare Hamlet, ii. 1. 58, "There (he) was a' gaming," with

“When he is drunk, asleep, or in his rage
At gaming.

Sometimes "of" and "a-" are interchanged. Compare "a-kin" and "of kind," "of burst" and "a-thirst," "of buve" and "a-bove." Most frequently, however, "a-" represents our modern "on" or "in." Compare "a-live" and "on live."

“Bite the holy cords a-twain.

; L. C. 6.

Compare "That his spere brast a-five," i.e. "burst in five pieces." (HALLIWELL.) So

“A-front.

“A-fire.

“Look up a-height (perhaps).

“Beaten the maids a-row.

“And keep in a-door.

Thus, probably, we must explain

“Thy angel becomes a fear.

i.e. "a-fear." The word "a-fere" is found in A.-S. in the sense of "fearful" (Mätzner, i. 394). And in the expressions "What a plague?" (1 Hen. IV. iv. 2. 56,) "What a devil?" (1 Hen. IV. ii. 2. 30,) "A God's name" (Rich. II. ii. 1. 251,) and the like, we must suppose a to mean "in," "on," or "of." There is some difficulty in

“I love a ballad in print a life (so Folio, Globe, "o' life").

It might be considered as a kind of oath, "on my life." Nares explains it "as my life," but the passages which he quotes could be equally well explained on the supposition that a is a preposition. The expression "all amort" in 1 Hen. VI. iii. 2. 124, and T. of Sh. iv. 3. 36, is said to be an English corruption of "à la mort." “To heal the sick, to cheer the alamort.” NARES.

The a (E. E. an or on) in these adverbial words sometimes for euphony retains the n:

“And each particular hair to stand an end.

1 So Hamlet, iii. 4. 122, Rich. III. i. 3. 304; and compare "an hungry," "an hungered" below, where the an is shown not to be the article. So

“A slave that still an end turns me to shame,

where "an end" (like "run on head" (Homilies), i.e. "run a-head") signifies motion "on to the end."

These adverbial forms were extremely common in earlier English, even where the nouns were of French origin. Thus we find: "a-grief," "a-fyn" for "en-fin," "a-bone" excellently, "a-cas" by chance. Indeed the corruption of en- into a- in Old French itself is very common, and we still retain from this source "a-round" for "en rond" and "a-front" for "en front."

(2) Before adjectives and participles, used as nouns.

When an adjective may easily be used as a noun, it is intelligible that it may be preceded by a-. Compare "a-height," quoted above, with our modern "on high," and with

“One heaved a-high to be hurled down below.

It is easy also to understand a- before verbal nouns and before adjectives used as nouns, where it represents on:

“I would have him nine years a-killing.

i.e. "on, or in the act of killing." So

“Whither were you a-going?

i.e. "in the act of going."

“The slave that was a-hanging there.

“Tom's a-cold.

i.e. "a-kale," E. E. "in a chill."

Some remarkable instances of this form are subjoined, in which nouns are probably concealed.

“I made her weep a-good.

i.e. "in good earnest;" but "good" may be a noun. Compare "a-bone" above.

“The secret mischiefs that I set abroach.

; R. and J. i. 1. 111. where a is prefixed to "broach," now used only as a verb. "On broach" and "abroach" are found in E. E. Compare

“O'er which his melancholy sits on brood.

Compare “That sets them all agape.” MILTON, P. L. v.; which is to be explained by the existence of an old noun, "gape."

(3) As the prefix of participles and adjectives.

In this case a- represents a corruption of the A.-S. intensive of. Thus from E. E. "offeren," we have "afered" or "afeared;" from A.-S. "of-gán," "a-gone." The of before a vowel or h is sometimes changed into on or an. See On, 182. And indeed the prefixes an-, on-, of-, a-, were all nearly convertible. Hence "of-hungred" appears not only as "afingred," but also "an-hungered," as in St. Matthew xxv. 44, A. V.: "When saw we thee an hungered or athirst?" It would be a natural mistake to treat an here as the article: but compare

“They were an hungry,

where the plural "they" renders it impossible to suppose that an is the article.

Perhaps, by analogy, a- is also sometimes placed before adjectives that are formed from verbs. It can scarcely be said that weary is a noun in

“For Cassius is a-weary of the world.

; 1 Hen. IV. iii. 2. 88.

Rather "a-weary," like "of-walked," means "of-wery," i.e. "tired out."

1 Compare

“Shall stand a tip-toe.

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