A Dictionary of the English Language/A

A, The first letter of the European alphabets, has, in the English language, three different sounds, which may be termed the broad, open, and slender.

The broad sound, resembling that of the German a, is found in many of our monosyllables, as all, wall, malt, salt, in which a is pronounced as au in cause, or aw in law. Many of these words were anciently written with au, as sault, waulk; which happens to be still retained in fault. This was probably the ancient found of the Saxons, since it is almost uniformly preferred in the rustic pronunciation, and the Northern dialects, as maun for man, haund for hand.

A open, not unlike the a of the Italians, is found in father, rather, and more obscurely in fancy, fast, &c.

A slender or close, is the peculiar a of the English language, resembling the sound of the French e masculine, or diphthong ai in pȧis, or perhaps a middle sound between them, or between the a and e; to this the Arabic a is said nearly to approach. Of this sound we have examples in the words, place, face, waste, and all those that terminate in ation; as relation, nation, generation.

A is short, as, glass, grass; or long, as, glaze, graze: it is marked long, generally, by an e final, plane, or by an i added, as plain. The short a is open, the long a close.

A, an article set before nouns of the singular number; a man, a tree; denoting the number one, as, a man is coming, that is, no more than one; or an indefinite indication, as, a man may come this way, that is, any man. This article has no plural signification. Before a word beginning with a vowel, it is written an, as, an ox, an egg, which a is the contraction.

A, taken materially, or for itself, is a noun; as, a great A, a little a.

A is placed before a participle, or participial noun; and is considered by Wallis as a contraction of at, when it is put before a word denoting some action not yet finished; as, I am a walking. It also seems to be anciently contracted from at, when placed before local surnames; as, Thomas a Becket. In other cases, it seems to signify to, like the French à.

A has a peculiar signification, denoting the proportion of one thing to another. Thus we say, The landlord hath a hundred a year; The ship's crew gained a thousand pounds a man.

A is used in burlesque poetry, to lengthen out a syllable, without adding to the sense.

A is sometimes, in familiar writings, put by a barbarous corruption for he; as, will a come, for will he come.


A is sometimes redundant; as, arise, arouse, awake; the same with rise, rouse, wake.

A, in abbreviations, stands for artium, or arts; as, A. B. batchelor of arts, artium baccalaureus; A. M. master of arts, artium magister; or, anno; as, A. D. anno domini.