I've noticed that in the common use of English, namely in songs, there is also an extra redundant(?) "a" before a gerund, such as in a gospel song I heard

Jesus is a coming

(this particular phrase looks like quoted here).

What's the exact grammatical role of this extra inserted a? Is it the indefinite article? Why is it there? Is there any specific reason for it, or is it just bad language, slang or what? Has it developed from a pause in the speech when the speaker needed an extra time to find the word? Something like this:

Jesus is a... what the hell is he.. well, coming!


Based on a comment I am supposed to spell it as

Jesus is a-coming

so maybe you may comment on this, too.

  • 1
    Correct your spelling. Jesus is a-coming, where a-coming is the verb. It's not the article a. This used to have a grammatical meaning. In the dialects where it is still used, I don't know whether it still has a grammatical meaning (distinguishing it from Jesus is coming), or whether it's just a holdover. Sep 12, 2014 at 12:49
  • @Peter: Please create it as an answer. That's exactly what I am asking about - the grammatical role of the a. So if your answer is "it's a part of the verb", please be more specific! Sep 12, 2014 at 12:53
  • I suspect that What purpose does an -o serve? is related, although Sumer is icumen in has a similar construction.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 12, 2014 at 12:53
  • The question english.stackexchange.com/questions/45886/… which this was marked as a duplicate does not have an accepted answer :) Sep 12, 2014 at 12:59
  • @Honza Zidek: I can't help it if the previous poster didn't bother to accept any of the answers. The one from Robusto covers the matter perfectly well, IMHO. Sep 12, 2014 at 13:01