Appalachian Dialect

Appalachian Grammar Lesson 13

Appalachian Grammar Lesson 13

Have you ever been around someone who puts an ‘a’ before certain words? If you have, you’ve probably heard phrases like:

  • I’ve been a-working at this all day long and ain’t got it done yet!
  • Granny’s a-keeping that little girl who lives down the road today.
  • There was ice on the back porch this morning and as soon as I stepped on it I started a-falling and a-stumbling all over the place.

I’ve heard folks add an ‘a’ before words all my life. I would tell you that I don’t add the prefix of ‘a’ to words-but my family has informed me I do. There was a vote taken and it was unanimous. Apparently on a regular basis I say “I’m a-going down to Granny’s I’ll be back in a little while.”

I consulted my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English to see what it had to say on the subject of adding an ‘a’ to words. According to the Dictionary using ‘a’ as a prefix to other words is derived from the Old English preposition an/on.

I’m a-hoping you’ll leave me a comment and tell me if using the prefix of ‘a’ before words is common in your area.



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  • Reply
    Roger Brothers
    January 6, 2020 at 11:27 am

    Got to wonderin once about Daddy’s habitual use of the word afeared once and as I suspected it is a legitimate early English word not a grammatical error. Found this and I think of it whenever Daddy comes to mind

    “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open, and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
    I cried to dream again.”
    William Shakespeare, The Tempest

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    August 4, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Hey Tipper,
    I found the Blind Pig about a week ago and I’ve just been awaitin’ for the right time to comment. I ‘reckin’ this is it. I live in west central Arkansas (the same county I was born in) and hearing people use ‘a’ as a prefix is as common as an old shoe.
    There are so many things that I’ve read here that bring back happy memories for me. Like Ethel (1-13-12) I relate to bary or baryd. And like Shirla (1-30-12) I had an ‘aint’Cory and a good friend Glenny.
    I’m sure you’ll hear more outa me later.

  • Reply
    February 1, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Where I came from, yes. Where I live now, not so much. But occasionally I do add it myself. tee hee

  • Reply
    John Dilbeck
    January 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    First, to follow up on Luann’s comment about ending sentences with “eh,” we do the same thing around here, except we say “ya think?”
    I reckon it’s a-gonna be a big storm, ya think?
    Back to the topic of the post…
    I add the “a” to a few words, but I generally do it purposely, for emphasis.
    To me, there’s a big difference between the following sentences:
    There’s a storm coming.
    and (more emphatically)…
    There’s a storm a-comin’!
    I’ve heard this used all my life, and use it quite often, especially when I’m writing colloquially.
    As always, I enjoyed this, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Bobby C
    January 31, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I think I do it on occasion, like “He’s gone a-huntin”, but I don’t think I do it regularly. Maybe I should do like you Tipper and survey the family.
    Now I have a friend who is a goog bit younger, in her mid 30’s, who lives a little further back in the hills. She does it all the time. And her son, who is 15 and best friends with my 15 year old, he does it too, holding true to his mountain heritage. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 31, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Yes a we use this on a daily basis, even my 3 year old grandson uses the a, he’s always a going somewhere with his imagination. Thanks!!!!

  • Reply
    Kristina in TN
    January 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    While I’m an East TN local, I’m not a native to the area. I was taught to speak meticulous English by my European mother, yet the older I get the more I find myself adopting some of the Appalachian vernacular. I’m quite fond of using a-goin’ or a-fixin’ in selected settings. It just sounds like home to me.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I’m a telling you Tipper I have heard that many, many times when I was growing up. Hadn’t thought about it for a while, thanks for reminding us about it.

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    January 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I know I’ve heard that and I’m probably even guilty of it too!

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    January 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    After reading this post I’m a hankerin’ to see my beloved East Tennessee hills again.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    The most fun thing about your grammar lessons is knowing that you are educating all those folks that didn’t have as colorful a way of saying things… My daddy’s kin back in Tennessee were the people I heard growing up that spoke with most of the idioms that you share in your grammar lessons and very rarely do you post anything that I haven’t heard and/or sometimes use.
    Thanks for a-sharin’ and educatin’ folks!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Yes, I hear it and I say it quite often, too.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Yes, I do think I use this; really enjoy your grammar lessons!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Droppin’ g’s and adding a’s is real common in Oklahoma.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Here in the Canadian Maritimes, we use “eh” a lot, but in a different fashion. What do you think of that eh? It’s beautiful weather eh!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    The added a is heard up here occasionally but not too often. My Grandma, the self-proclaimed Pennsylvania Hillbilly, also said extry, borry (borrow) and ary (area). I love our language and all it’s quirks!

  • Reply
    just a swangin
    January 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I am from s.w va ,near ky and tn .I have heard this all my mom used to say it and I have found that I do as well but I try not to..most people from this area do use the a before and the ie at the end too.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve been a-hearin’ this all my life, but not a-usin’ it. I don’t think…As a Florida transplant, I’ve been very careful.My mother and her older family members (AL/TN)often use ‘ye’ for ‘your’, ie, “Go tell ye daddy.”

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    January 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve heard it all my life and still love hearing it every once in a while here in the mountains of western NC.
    Mainly, I love your blog. Keep coming.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I have heard this all my life and use it sometimes myself. Another thing we use is, of the evening or of the morning. Sometimes of the evening we’ll go out to the DQ and get us an ice cream cone. My wife is from SC and the first time she heard me say of the evening she had to ask me what I was talking about. They have their own dialect there as well and we all have fun with it. I’m a gonna tell her about this post and she’ll get a good laugh out of it! I love the grammar lessons!!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    January 30, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Yep, we use it all the time. Of course, my mama was part of that post WWII generation that escaped the mountains as soon as they could (they tried to wash those ol’ mountains right out of their hair!), so any “strange” sayings I heard when we went to visit family were carefully deprogrammed when we got back home. However, my apple didn’t fall very far from those mountain trees, so my mother is to this day very disappointed in the reversal of all her strongest efforts!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 30, 2012 at 11:15 am

    This is just more evidence that the purest “Old English” a spoken anywhere in the world is here in the Appalachaian Mountains. This proves we are correct and the detractors are caught up with the “New English” which was only a way to try to impress and make others think you were a somtnin you ain’t.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    January 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Very common in my neck of the woods. I always enjoy your grammar lessons. :o)

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Never thought much about it til i read this but guess i’m guilty. Don’t think i use it all the time but know it slips out ever so often.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 30, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I have heard the “a” put before verbs all my life, however, I use the word “daylights” often. Particularly in “he/she scared the daylights out of me.”

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    January 30, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Hi Tipper , Your Appalachian Grammar Posts are my favorite blog things. Thanks for a-posting this/

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:58 am

    My granny, mom, mamaw, and great grandmother, to name a few, use the “a” addition. Here in East Tennessee it is common. They also ues “Ye,” which was or is still used in Scotland and Ireland.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    January 30, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I’m a fixin to answer your post now Tipper. Shoot! I didn’t even know it was incorrect to add an a here and yon. I truly love your Appalachian Grammar Posts. Keep them a comin’.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 30, 2012 at 9:47 am

    and Ed…soon as I read the word “extry” in your comment, it took me a-back and could just hear my Granny sayin’ it…”Put a “extry” sweater “inunder” that coat, “hits” cold out thare, and “yore” shore catch yore death!”
    Thanks for the memories Ed and Tipper….

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Adding that ‘A’ is so natural for my family. It’s funny that we never even think about it until someone like Tipper brings it to our attention. Where I come from, they use the ‘A’ before words but drop it and add ‘ie’ at the end of most names. I still call them Aunt Dorie, Lolie, Almie and etc.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Reading your posts has revealed things about my speech that I was not even aware of. I definitely add an “a” to words, and as Don Cassada pointed out I too would say goin not going.:)

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

    You know I do that all the time. I was just a-thinking that I won’t ever forgit whats-er name.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I live in Louisiana and I hear this all the time. I am not conscious of saying this,but I know that I do. I’ll be “a listening for this all day.”

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:53 am

    not common down here, but i have heard it many times in the past in Georgia and Kentucky.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I don’t here it often here. “I’m a’comin” is probably the most. Have a great day!

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    January 30, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Have heard that as long as I can remember and I do believe I add the “a’s” occasionally. I agree with Don…some phrases just wouldn’t sound right with the a. Another interesting post.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Don-you are so right : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 30, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I think that a-plenty of us use them a’s more’n we think about..By the way if we thunk about it we’re not a-goin’ to say’em….
    …I’m a-thinkin’ it’s too early to thunk my “thinker” could rethink thunking ’bout aaaaa’s…sorry!
    Now if’n you’d said..n..instead of’n a, I’d a-thought I’da a-never did use it…
    I’m just a-say’n…LOL
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I just read Ed’s comment too…I hear “extry” some, especially from my wife’s great-grandmother. She spoke pure Appalachian and was a delight to talk with!

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    January 30, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I’m fifty years from North Carolina and sometimes catch myself doing it.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 8:13 am

    It’s definitely common here in WV. I don’t think I say it but I def hear it all of the time. I guess I don’t even really notice it I’d say

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 30, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I don’t think I add that extra a. I asked the cats and they just looked at me and rolled their eyes. Could be I am mistaken. lol
    I’ve been around folks all my life who speak Appalachian so, of course, I’ve heard it a lot.
    Tipper, If you had asked me if you add the a I probably would have said no. I think it is so common to me that I don’t even hear it.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 30, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Just think about how much smoother and more efficient the transition is made by putting the “a” in between the words. It just flows more naturally.
    But you’re wrong in one thing you wrote, Tipper – there ain’t no way that you added a “g” onto the end of goin. Why, that would defeat the whole purpose of putting the “a” out in front.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 30, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Tipper–I wouldn’t think of anouncing plans to go on a hunt in other way than I’m a-fixin’ to go a-huntin’ and if doves are a-flyin’ good there’ll be a-shootin’ good time.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 30, 2012 at 7:49 am

    A-comin’ and A-goin’ and all the other a-before-a-verb words were common (still are) in the mountains of North Georgia, especially among the country folks. Do you notice that the addition of ‘a’ is before a present participle verb, a verb ending in “ing”, as a-singing, a-going? But here in Middle Georgia I don’t hear it very frequently (if at all). I’ll have to start listening more carefully to my own speech to see if I revert back to my raisin’ a-tellin’ my stories!

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    January 30, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Yes, we say it all the time. I’ve noticed some people adding an ‘a’ to “I” during conversation, like “I-a don’t know what time it starts.”

  • Reply
    B f
    January 30, 2012 at 7:44 am

    been there , done that , didnt live all these yrs for”nuthin”
    most of the plain talk was easy understood and most of the old timers didnt mind setting you straight if you strayed too far
    and tried to teach them proper grammar , so best leave granny alone when she,s setting there maybe shelling beans and maybe you think you,ll teach her a thing or two, guess what? you,ll be the one getting taught a lesson
    have a blessed day

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 30, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Like you Tipper, I didn’t think I did, but I have been informed, adamantly, that I do. I know my neighbors from when I was growing up did, so I probably picked it up from them.

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    January 30, 2012 at 7:14 am

    I’ve heard of doing that, and I like the sound of it, but I’ve never done it myself. Guess I live on the wrong side of the Mason Dixon line!

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    January 30, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Like Ed, I will be a-looking to be a-hearing alla them extra “a’s” today.
    And I am pretty sure I will.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 30, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Not common here in South Florida, which is mostly Yankee dialect anyway. I did hear the use all my life in East Tennessee.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Although I’ve heard this, it’s not real common here. However…did you hear of people putting “awhile” at the end of everything? “I’ll just wash these dishes awhile”, or “Do your homework awhile”. That’s a very PA Dutch thing.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

    I’ll be a-leaving here in a minute to go to work. I’ll be a-listening for people a-puttin extry a’s in fronta their words. Around here we have a bunch of a’s we ain’t a-using so we’ve just been a-hanging them everywhere.

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