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, of which a is the contraction.
A is sometimes 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 hunting Chloë went. Prior.
They go a begging to a bankrupt's door. Dryd.
May pure contents for ever pitch their tents
Upon these downs, these meads, these rocks, these mountains,
And peace still slumber by these purling fountains!
Which we may every year
Find when we come a fishing here. Wotton.
Now the men fell a rubbing of armour, which a great while had lain oiled; the magazines of munition are viewed; the officers of remains called to account. Wotton.
Another falls a ringing a Pescennius Niger, and judiciously distinguishes the sound of it to be modern. Addison on medals.
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.
The river Inn, that had been hitherto shut up among mountains, passes generally through a wide open country, during all its course through Bavaria; which is a voyage of two days, after the rate of twenty leagues a day. Addison on Italy.
A is used in burlesque poetry, to lengthen out a syllable, without adding to the sense.
For cloves and nutmegs to the line-a,
And even for oranges to China. Dryden.
A is sometimes, in familiar writings, put by a barbarous corruption for he.