A- before a verb as in 8 Maids a-milking ... except without hyphen

vsop44

Senior Member
français France
Hey there ,

There is a thread in the Fr-En forum where a poster asks what the a- before a verb means , it turns out that the guy who is speaking is italian and adds an "a" either before or after almost every word ! :)

When I refer to the 8 maids a-milking of song , I guess it is old english spoken from early 20th century and before ; but when reading contemporary books in BE and even AE , I often see the "a" before a verb but the hyphen is gone .
So my question is , what does the "a" in front of a verb convey in modern english ?

Thanks for you replies .
 
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    When I refer to the 8 maids a-milking of song , I guess it is old english spoken from early 20th century and before ; but when reading contemporary books in BE and even AE , I often see the "a" before a verb but the hyphen is gone .
    So my question is , what does the "a" in front of a verb convey in modern english ?
    Properly speaking Old English is the English from AD 450 to 1100.

    Here's the Oxford English Dictionary on the prefix a- with verbs:

    (Prefix 1) With verbs, implying motion onward or away from a position; hence (originally with verbs of motion) adding intensity.
    (Prefix 3) 2. With nouns and verb stems, forming adverbs (and derived adjectives and prepositions) expressing activity, position, condition, etc. Now chiefly poet.
    1968 E. S. Russenholt Heart of Continent i. i. 2 Parklands and plains a-move with pasturing buffalo.
    1989 T. Tryon Night of Moonbow iv. iv. 261 Harpo took up a position outside the window, tongue still hanging a-pant, earnestly cocking his head.
    1999 Esquire Mar. 33/3 Cynics often wonder, aloud, and asmirk.
     
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