Is there a name for the archaic form of a-verb participle, as in a-walking?

It appears in poetry and songs, for example,

As I was a-walking down Paradise Street...

Time is the stream I go a-fishing in.

  • Related: What is a-rovin'? Feb 20, 2021 at 12:18
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    Does this answer your question? What is the history of adding the a- prefix to form words? bye writes 'As with a lot of what happened during this period, what we have now in the language is mostly what was present in and around London when the orthography was fixed by printing. Many of the a- words that one recognises as quaint regionalisms today (like a-hunting) were standard in dialects that did not, themselves, have the good fortune to become the standard themselves.' Just a prefix. Feb 20, 2021 at 12:21
  • They aren't gerunds, they are present participles; they're not functioning as nouns but as verbs. You are actually walking down Paradise Street, you do actually fish in the stream. They would only be gerunds if you were using them as nouns "The walking I was doing in Paradise Street" and "The fishing I do in the stream".
    – BoldBen
    Feb 20, 2021 at 13:17
  • @BoldBen 'gerund' is ill-defined (though probably the way you're using it is most popular among those who still risk using it). CGEL lumps into gerund-participials, while ACGEL (Quirk et al) use 'ing-form' (as do others) and prefer a gradience model. Feb 20, 2021 at 14:44
  • To all those tempted to vote to close this question on the grounds that it is a duplicate, I would just like to point out that the OP explicitly asked for the name of such verb forms, and the previous questions linked above do not seem to provide one. Feb 20, 2021 at 23:19

1 Answer 1


There is a name for this linguistic phenomenon: according to Yale Grammatical Diversity Project (link), it is called a-prefixing.

A-prefixing is a phenomenon where a prefix, a-, attaches to a verbal form with the suffix -ing, as in the following Appalachian English examples from Wolfram (1976):

1)  a.  I know he was a-tellin' the truth, but I was a-comin' home.
     b.  Well, she's a-gettin' the black lung now, ain't she?

The verbs themselves are said to have a-prefixed forms (source: W. Wolfram, 'Toward a Description of A-Prefixing in Appalachian English', American Speech Vol. 51, No. 1/2, Spring - Summer, 1976.)

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