As I was studying English I found interesting grammar that made me wonder a lot. How do you Native Speakers carry so much and use so little?

For instance the 'a'+word words. They are very interesting and really poetic. I was wondering if one could just use any 'a'+word word and be understood?

Let's say we have:

  • afar
  • abed
  • asleep
  • ahead
  • arise
  • awake

and e.t.c

But if I used words like the following in poetic English (Writing, lyrics, poetry, articles of some kind), would they be understood depending on the context?

  • agive
  • asail
  • adraw
  • asit
  • abind

2 Answers 2


This a- prefix was derived from Old English, a time when there was a lot more inflection (see also this source). Some of these words will seem old-fashioned (and some of them are actually obsolete), which is why it seems poetic.

Note that three of your words in the latter category are real English words (asail, abind, and adraw; adraw is obsolete).

In general, I think a lot of the time it would be understood, although it could be hard to parse (and therefore confusing) in spoken poetry in particular.

For example:

I am afoot

May be heard as:

I am a foot

To some extent, proper pausing, emphasis, and context help resolve this, but some people may still not understand what you mean.

Although they are real words, there are plenty of a-words that just don't sound right.

Earlier today (coincidentally), I discovered that "ahungry" is a word, although I've never heard it before. I'm a native speaker, but I wasn't convinced that it was a real word until I looked it up on the internet. Here's an example of ahungry in a poem. (I was just as skeptical, if not more so, about "anhungry", which appears to be an earlier, now-obsolete version of the word.)

It's hard to explain why words like "ahungry" don't sound right (it's my intuition as a native speaker); the only "objective" way I can think of would be look at recent usage (it helps to have good search skills).


It's important to note that verbs are different. You use the present participle of the verb, and a hyphenated "a-", like this: a-verbing. (In some cases, the hyphen may be a space, but it's easiest just to use a hyphen.)

Unlike some of the a-words in other parts of speech, verbs following this pattern almost always sound correct:

A well-known (and timely) example containing several other a-verbing constructs is The 12 Days of Christmas.

See also:

  • A very interesting answer. The links are great. Dec 6, 2016 at 6:36

I don't think they would be easily understood, as putting "a" in front of a word doesn't change the meaning in a predictable way. If the context so heavily implies the meaning of the word you are creating, then sure, you could use it. But why not use any one of the many other words in the English language which already has the meaning you are trying to suggest?

  • Let's take for instance the existing word "afar" and its meaning "big distance". He was looking at the ship from afar - sounds very poetic, while He was looking at the ship from a big distance - sounds common. If we, say, take a word "agive" then we have. The new generator agave the city the power it required. - The new generator gave plenty of power that the city required. Dec 5, 2016 at 13:42
  • "Looking at the ship from a 'great' distance" - doesn't sound un-poetic, I'd say. What does "agave" add to your sentence? I can't easily understand what is supposed to add, for the reason mentioned in my answer. I would probably use the word "supplied", anyway.
    – Tom B
    Dec 5, 2016 at 13:45
  • I found an example of "agive" - Canceling the show will hopefully agive the creators a chance to come up with something new and fresh, hopefully upto the high quality of the first 5 seasons (and the first 4 episodes of s6) Dec 5, 2016 at 13:49
  • "agive" isn't in my dictionary.
    – Tom B
    Dec 5, 2016 at 13:50
  • Because it doesn't exist. Dec 5, 2016 at 13:52

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