I am not sure if the phrase Times are a changing is used exclusively within or related to the Bob Dylan song but the A is bugging the hell out of me every time I see it. Why is there an indefinite article in front of an adjective which is not followed by a noun?


This is a dialect relic of the oldest form of the progressive construction, going back to OE: BE + the preposition an/on + a noun or a gerund.

The preposition was gradually reduced to a neutral vowel /ə/, spelled {a}, and the gerund eventually collapsed into the -ing form.

The same construction with nouns gave rise to many of the modern postposed adjectives beginning a-: asleep (on sleep), awake (on wake), alive (on life).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.