This glorious adverb – or is it? – was originally a phrase. Let us defer to the OED:

Etymology: In its origin a phrase, on prep., and weg , way n.1 and int.1, i.e. on (his, one’s) way , ‘on’ (as in ‘move on’), and thus ‘from this (or that) place.’ Already in Old English reduced to a-weg : compare prep.1: the 14th and 15th cents. forms in o-on-, were northern; in Middle English and modern dialects reduced to ‘way (York Plays, do way = put away, Scots co’wayc’way = come away), also in certain combinations, as way-going. … In earlier English used as a separable verbal prefix, standing before the verb, especially in subordinate sentences, and complex verb phrases (as in German), e.g. Sone se ich hit awei warp, soon as I threw it away: he wes awæi ifloȝen, he had flown away; still placed emphatically before the subject as ‘away he went,’ ‘away went hat and wig.’

“away, adv.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, Accessed 25 September 2019.

So, it is only an adverb, and the OED has fourteen different uses of it (with many a jaunty sub-use), but I was searching for it’s verbal use, as in the dwarves’ song! “We must away…” – clearly it must also do a little time as a verb? No. I discovered this most delicious of explanations:

IV. Elliptical uses, with a verb suppressed: simulating an imperative or (rarely) infinitive.
 14. = Go away.

“away, adv.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, Accessed 25 September 2019.

• 1.006 He had been away over The Hill
• 1.010 and floated away over The Hill.
• 1.012 and wanted him to go away.
• 1.023 Then he strode away,
• 1.060 (his appetite was quite taken away),
• 1.068 and put away
• 1.070 and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons,
• 1.073 We must away ere break of day
• 1.077 We must away, ere break of day,
• 1.082 We must away, ere break of day,
• 1.084 until all the dwarves had gone away.
• 1.123 and carry away people,
• 1.124 When I asked how they had got away,
• 1.124 After that we went away,
• 1.128 And Thrain your father went away on the twenty-first of April,
• 1.132 Your father went away to try his luck
• 1.144 We must away, ere break of day,
• 2.035 and all the baggage that he carried was washed away off him.
• 2.048 he wished himself a hundred miles away,
• 2.061 before he remembered not to give his friends away.
• 2.111 going away through the trees.
• 2.117 and carried away the pots of gold,
• 2.125 they had frightened everyone away from the district,
• 3.001 not far away on either side.
• 3.050 Now they rode away amid songs of farewell
• 4.002 Far, far away
• 4.034 Take them away to dark holes full of snakes,
• 5.019 if only I can get away.’
• 5.022 and was driven away, alone,
• 5.067 Guess away!’ said Bilbo.
• 5.083 relieved to think of Gollum going away.
• 5.084 Not far away was his island,
• 5.090 and wailing away
• 5.127 Bilbo crept away from the wall
• 5.128 He must get away,
• 5.145 scrambled away on all fours,
• 6.004 on the other side the ground sloped away
• 6.040 rolled away from their feet;
• 6.040 and they were sliding away,
• 6.045 though far away through the trees
• 6.049 All of a sudden they heard a howl away down hill,
• 6.049 It was answered by another away to the right
• 6.049 then by another not far away to the left.
• 6.063 So the Wargs had no intention of going away
• 6.065 till their own friends chased them away
• 6.069 and they flew away from the mountains,
• 6.075 Fly away little birds!
• 6.075 Fly away if you can!
• 6.076 Go away! little boys!’
• 6.082 or drove them far away;
• 6.092 and flew away with him into the night leaving Bilbo all alone.
• 6.094 and Bilbo far away
• 7.002 and the world was far away,
• 7.012 who lives not far away.
• 7.050 Go on, call away!’
• 7.055 away east beyond Mirkwood,’ put in Gandalf,
• 7.088 and they lived a good way away;
• 7.096 and the voices seemed to grow far away,
• 7.116 At last Gandalf pushed away his plate
• 7.117 only ones going away from here.
• 7.133 away to the right,
• 7.142 some pressing business away south;
• 7.145 As they went away Bilbo could have sworn
• 7.154 Then he galloped away
• 7.154 and go away!’
• 8.010 How far away do you think it is?’ asked Thorin,
• 8.030 thrusting the boat away from the bank,
• 8.062 not far away were scores of twinkling lights,
• 8.070 begun not far away –
• 8.073 all noise at last died right away,
• 8.075 or it would have hurried away quicker.
• 8.081 like a patch of midnight that had never been cleared away.
• 8.094 Bilbo, however, soon slipped away
• 8.094 away from the dwarves,
• 8.104 It had thought of starting the feast while the others were away,
• 8.112 and were dragging him away.
• 8.119 and ‘Attercop’ from among the trees away on the right.
• 8.119 Away behind them now the shouting
• 8.123 their prey moved slowly but steadily away.
• 8.130 and carried him away.
• 8.143 Take him away
• 9.011 even tucked away
• 9.012 I am like a burglar that can’t get away,
• 9.018 the roof had been cut away
• 9.018 were brought from far away,
• 9.022 The guards were tramping away down the passages
• 9.050 and bobbing away down the current.
• 9.053 South away! and South away!
• 9.053 South away! and South away!
• 9.053 South away! and South away!
• 9.053 South away! and South away!
• 9.055 and their voices faded away.
• 9.056 and away.
• 9.061 and tubs away to the north bank,
• 9.063 but he was given away
• 9.068 and went sailing away down,
• 10.001 Suddenly the cliff fell away.
• 10.002 And far away,
• 10.004 if he had known that news of this had reached Gandalf far away
• 10.006 Only from the map did Bilbo know that away up there,
• 10.006 and ran away hurriedly to unknown lands.
• 10.009 and towed away round the high shoulder of rock
• 10.009 and take some of the casks away,
• 10.018 Other folk were far away;
• 10.021 and all the waters of the lake turn yellow right away.
• 11.003 slanting away from the River Running,
• 11.004 died away to a plodding gloom.
• 11.011 But he might be gone away some time,
• 11.021 and go away.
• 11.021 and stare away west through the opening,
• 12.010 till all sign of the door behind had faded away.
• 12.013 stretching away across the unseen floors,
• 12.015 To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away
• 12.033 Nor could they get away just now,
• 12.034 for bringing away a cup
• 12.057 But don’t let your imagination run away with you!’
• 12.078 Mr. Baggins’ one idea was to get away.
• 12.090 and flew away.
• 12.100 and getting up he kicked away the stone that wedged the door.
• 12.104 and went away south
• 13.018 as he wandered away into the vast hall;
• 13.022 But soon they saw it far away
• 13.033 Smaug was away from home.
• 13.061 We must move away from here,’
• 14.016 hoping to row away
• 15.011 and immediately flew away.
• 15.029 away south
• 16.014 not far away.’
• 16.035 and threw away the wrapping.
• 17.046 rolling away to the South-East;
• 18.020 Then Bilbo turned away,
• 18.041 Then he turned away.
• 18.053 There far away was the Lonely Mountain
• 19.018 he rode away with Gandalf.


Of all our “a-” words, our very last is one of the mysteries.  The “a-” is not likely to be the intensifier preposition 1, but its true root is hard to disentangle from the distinct verb “awaken” or the obscure word of parallel meaning, “awecche.”

  • 07.108 It was full morning when he awoke.
  • 08.065 and when he was awake he was not pleased at all.
  • 14.041 for they thought that war was awakening again,

“awake, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.

“† aˈwecche, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


In this example of “a-” preposition 1, Bilbo is definitely not in the position of striding across his barrel.

  • 09.056 even if he had managed to get astride his barrel,

“astride, adv., prep., and adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


This is mostly likely to be “a-” preposition 1, in the situation of straying.  In this case, it is said of good plans.

  • 04.003 and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes

“astray, adv.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


Thorin and Company only move ashore – “a-” preposition 1, in a situation – during the barrel adventure.

  • 09.059 close ashore at one point
  • 09.062 and waded ashore,
  • 09.066 If they had come ashore
  • 10.012 and helped ashore

“ashore, adv.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


Such an everyday thing as annoyance is not seen from the moment the dwarves enter the barrels until Bilbo is safely home in Bag-End.  This is a case of “an-” prefix 1, a particle handy for forming verbs, adverbs, and prepositions.

  • 01.058 and annoyed.
  • 01.142 (which annoyed Bilbo very much),
  • 02.034 was most annoying.
  • 02.108 and very annoyed:
  • 03.018 or get annoyed with them.
  • 05.098 But Bilbo was annoyed at the delay.
  • 07.018 and you must be careful not to annoy him,
  • 08.049 We are quite annoyed enough with you as it is.
  • 09.034 and also rather annoyed.
  • 19.035 as Bilbo noticed with annoyance.

“annoy, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


The “a-” prefix 1 intensifer is at work here, putting one intensely in the power of the muses.  OED notes that Shakespeare never used the word.  I find it notable that amusements end well before the capture in Mirkwood.

  • 01.020 Very amusing for me,
  • 04.013 and set dancing up by the roof to amuse them.
  • 06.071 and they soon had a plan which seemed to them most amusing.

“amuse, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


While OED does not specify which “a-” this is, it does tell us it’s from “on middan”, so my money is on preposition 1 (in the situation).

  • 03.050 Now they rode away amid songs of farewell
  • 10.037 amid scenes of astonishing enthusiasm.
  • 14.012 Amid shrieks
  • 14.043 amid the ruined piles of the old town.

“amid, adv. and prep.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.


I am fascinated to notice that in Chapter 17, amazement only occurs in companionship with confusion.  This is a use of “a-” prefix 1 – towards and therefore intensifier of the sensation of being in a maze.

  • 16.036 in amazement.
  • 17.009 with amazement and confusion.
  • 17.042 Amazement and confusion fell upon them all.

“amaze, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 18 May 2015.