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American Sign Language: "break"

The right sign for "break" depends on what you mean.

If you mean "break" as in to physically break something apart then do a movement that looks as if you are snapping a small stick into two pieces.

BREAK / "it broke" / "It is broken."

Note: You can use the above sign and then spell "UP" to mean "broke up" as in, "I broke up with my boyfriend (or girlfriend)."

If you mean "break" as in "summer break" or a "holiday break" then use the VACATION sign.


VACATION / "off work" / time off:



If you mean break as in "intermission" or "interlude" use the IN-BETWEEN sign:
The left hand is in a "loose" four handshape (notice in the example, my pinkie and ring finger are together--it doesn't matter, that's just how my hand ended up. The index and middle could be together too).

IN-BETWEEN / insert / in the middle of / intermission:


If you mean break as in PAUSE, then you can use the "PAUSE: sign:
The right index finger reaches down changes to an "X" handshape and lifts up the left index finger.

PAUSE / hold up / suspend operations:


As time goes on I'm seeing more and more people using the signs "BREAK-(apart)  TIME" to mean, "breaktime." I also see people signing, "I NEED BREAK" to mean, "I need a break" as in, "I need to rest."

As a lexicographer and an ASL instructor I have mixed feelings about this.  The ASL instructor in me wants to tell you that such usage is "wrong."

The lexicographer (dictionary maker) in me wants simply to document and report how signs are actually being used by Deaf (native adult) members of the Deaf community.

Regardless, I do want you to be aware that the "correctness" of the usage of the sign "BREAK-(apart)" seems to be evolving.  As more and more people start using the sign "BREAK-(apart)" to mean "breaktime" it may become more common, thus more accepted as "correct."

Society makes this decision.  Not ASL teachers. Time will tell.


Note: The sign for the breaking, snapping, or exploding of a thing (such as a bone breaking or fireworks going off) is often accompanied by a "plosive" (air rushing out such as when you voice the letter "p") mouth morpheme (a movement of the mouth that conveys meaning).  Such a "plosive" tends to look like you are saying "pah," "pow!," "bow!," "puh!" or the first half of the word "Pop!"


ASL is NOT a "one sign" equals "one meaning" language.
Just because the sign "BREAK / broken / to break" typically means: "to separate or cause to separate into pieces" doesn't mean that it can't also have other meanings. It is common to see real "everyday" Deaf signers using "BREAK/broken/to-break" to also mean:
"interrupt (a continuity, sequence, or course)"
"an interruption of continuity or uniformity"
"a pause in work or during an activity or event."

It doesn't matter how many self-appointed experts (or people with degrees and positions) tell you what a sign "should" do.
What matters is how a sign is really, actually, right now out in the community being used.

Sure, if you need to sign a certain way to get a grade from an instructor then sign it that way until you get the grade you want.
Then go out into the real world and see how real Deaf sign.


You can learn American  Sign Language  (ASL) online at American Sign Language University
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars

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