back.gif (1674 bytes)

ASL Numbers 1-10

When done as casual, isolated signs, numbers "1 through 5" are typically produced palm-back by native Deaf adult signers. For example, if someone asks you how many brothers you have and you have "2" then you would reply by holding up the number 2 with the palm facing backward.

However, the palm should be forward when doing a two-or-more-digit number such as "53," or a series of numbers such as a phone number, the time of day, ages, and if you are trying to emphasize a point. Tip: During class sign however your local teacher wants you to for your grade. Out of class pattern your signing on local native Deaf adult signers.

#'s 1 through 5:

NOTE:  When done as part of a series, numbers 1 through five are generally done palm forward.  For example, numbers such as a phone number, an identification number, a number on a door, a social security number, etc. are generally all done palm forward.
 When we are signing a series of numbers (such as a phone number) we do the numbers 1 through 5 palm forward. 


We also do 1 through 5 palm forward when they are part of multiple digit numbers such as "51."
Using the same hand you would show a 5 and then a 1 (very quickly).




QUESTION:  A student writes:
 "I have a question regarding signing 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  Why do you say your palm has to be facing in because I have seen it signed both ways palm in and out. Could you clarify for me a little more?"

RESPONSE:  Dr. Bill writes:
I agree that we certainly see both versions of "1 thru 5" (palm back and palm out) in the Deaf Community. The palm doesn't "have to" face in (back) while doing numbers 1 thru 5 -- and quite often it doesn't. To be clear, we are discussing the isolated production of those numbers (when they are signed alone -- not as part of a larger number). The question isn't about right and wrong. Both orientations of 1 thru 5 are certainly in use by native Deaf adult signers. The question a student of ASL should ask is: Which version is the "citation" and/or default version? Which is the "least inflected?" Which version might we want to list first or higher in a dictionary entry?

Hold your hand up and pay attention to the muscles in the wrist, ask yourself, "Which version (palm forward or palm back) creates the most tension in the wrist?" For most people, the palm back version of numbers 1 through 5 produces the least tension and therefore tends to be the default production and/or the citation version or main way of signing 1 through 5. If we are going to make the effort to produce those numbers palm out we typically have a "reason" for the extra effort such as a need to emphasize, draw attention to, distinguish, contrast, or compare. Unfortunately, many beginners "only" learn the palm forward version and that influences later number usage. For example, consider how adult native Deaf people tend to sign "HALF" (1/2) -- typically palm back. If a student learns "1" palm out it will tend to fossilize and impact other signs that use a "1" (such as HALF or PENNY) which is one of the reasons why it is not uncommon for beginners to sign HALF-[1/2] palm forward instead of the more common palm-back version. It is good for students to learn both versions of 1 through 5 and lean toward the palm-back default version when doing those numbers in isolation.

Numbers [general discussion and notes] 

Numbers 1-10  /  11-20  /  21-30  /  31-40  / 41-50100-900  / 1000 and up  /  Fractions  /  Discussion

Various examples:  100  /  1000000  /  1000 variation  /  1000 variation  /  100 "c" variation  /  200  /  2000  /  23  /  2,397  /  25  /  300  /  34   /   35   /   400   /   40s   /   41-50   /   500   /   600   /   700   /   800   /   900

Also see:  Numerical Incorporation

American Sign Language University ASL resources by Dr. William Vicars
back.gif (1674 bytes)