The sign for "car" has many variations. One of the more
common versions is to fingerspell it.
I recommend you just spell this concept. Seriously. It only takes three
Note: The fingerspelling of the word car becomes somewhat lexicalized (sign
like). For example, when you fingerspell "C-A-R" at high speed you may
notice that your thumb on the tends to "hang out" when you get to the letter
"R" (instead of wrapping around).
Of course you will also see the classic "steering wheel" version of the sign for car.
Use a small quick movement that looks as if you were turning a
small steering wheel side to side.
The sign DRIVE can be modified to mean "drive to here."
When telling a story about someone driving you can use a large movement and
corresponding facial expressions to show how you would look if you were actually
manipulating a steering wheel.
Yes, yes, I know -- I look like a bum in these pics. These are
the pics that inspired me to start shaving my head bald and wearing a
black dress shirt for future pictures.
There are many ways to express the concept of "driving."
To sign "DRIVE-TO" you'd just
use a single forward movement.
To sign "I was driving along" the hands move forward, back, and forward a second time (using
a couple of short quick
movements). If it was a "long drive" then you can modify the sign by
using a larger forward movement.
DRIVING (version) "cruising" / "I was driving along..."
Signed English version:
You might see "car" signed with two "C" hands, hitting one on top of the
other (the pinky of the top "C" hits against the index finger of the bottom
"C"). That version is quite common in the Deaf Community but I don't
recommend you do it on an ASL test.
In a message dated 10/29/____ 3:26:29 PM Pacific Standard Time,
Hello Dr. Bill,
I am a 13 year old who wants to learn ASL and your website has helped me
tremendously. I also had a question on signing "drive" when your hands are in
"C" handshapes doesn't that mean "car" and when you have your hands in "D"
handshapes doesn't that mean "drive"? Or have I gotten mixed up with something
What you are talking about is called "initialization."
Initialization is the practice of using the initial letter of the English
translation of a sign as the the handshape for that sign.
While it is true that quite a few signs are "initialized," initialization is
not something that applies to the majority of signs in ASL. It is
also true that most Deaf people are bilingual (know two languages). Here
in America, most "culturally Deaf" people know both ASL and English.
Quite often that knowledge of English influences a Deaf person's use of ASL.
But whether or not an influence from English becomes an accepted part of ASL
depends on how many users adopt the innovation (the new sign or method of
signing). So, back to your question about the signs for drive and car:
a verb and is signed larger and or in a more "mime-like" fashion than
"car." CAR is signed smaller, quicker and in a less iconic way (that
means it doesn't look so
much like you are holding the wheel of an actual car). Both signs use "S"
If your local sign language instructor has taught you to sign "DRIVE" using
"D" hands, just file that away in the back of your mind that you have "one
vote" for an initialized version of "DRIVE." Then, as you get out in
the Deaf world and interact with skilled, native users of ASL
you will start getting many, many votes for the non-initialized version (using
"S" handshapes). In any case, set a goal to always be polite and open
minded about such discussions (and it seems you are indeed a such a person)
since language changes over time and from region to region. My strong
recommendation however is to stick with the "S" hand version.
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