What the Prefix a Tells a Reader about a Word

When used as a prefix, the letter “a” can apply one of several different meanings to a word. The prefix enables the writer to add vivid descriptive meaning to content in concise sentences and lean paragraph structure. A single word prefixed with “a” can substitute for several lines of writing. Here are some examples:

Many words beginning with the letter “a” have become so widely used in writings that the reader may not consciously realize a prefix exists. This occurs with such nouns as foot, bed and ground. These common English-language words evoke mind pictures for most readers. Each of these words names an object and at the same time describes it with the precision of well-chosen adjectives. Put the letter “a” in front of the words, however, and these everyday words become informative verbs that denote a state of being: afoot, abed, aground. Using the “a” prefix here, the writer need not go into lengthy explanations about the subject matter: the single word does the work quite effectively.

Writers also use the prefix “a” to create adjectives from verbs. Put the prefix “a” in front of such words as sleep, smolder or swagger and they become descriptive adjectives based on the underlying verb: asleep, asmolder, aswagger. The words can add both description and action to sentences as follows: “They found him asleep in a tangle of blankets.” “She came into the room asmolder – a volcano ready to erupt.” “He entered the tavern all aswagger, ready to challenge the lot of them.” The words a writer might seek may not appear in a dictionary, but with a bit of imagination, the writer can convert many verbs into adjectives by prefacing them with the “a” prefix.

The prefix “a” also can denote a turning away from or the absence of commitment to a state of being. This usually occurs with the use of adjectives. By placing the letter “a” in front of certain adjectives, the writer produces a contrary meaning to the word. The word political becomes apolitical, to mean the person so described has no particular political view. Sexual becomes asexual: a lack of sexuality; lacking two sexes. The word symmetric, preceded by the “a” prefix, becomes asymmetric to describe something of an uneven, irregular or distorted arrangement or procedure.

 The letter “a” when used as a prefix offers the writer a wealth of descriptive and action-based words from which to choose when composing a piece of writing.