100: The sign "100" starts with an index finger (not an "L" hand
nor a "D" hand) and changes into a "C" hand (formal) or an "X"
1,000: Use an "index" finger to start the sign "1,000" (not
a "D" hand).
A: The thumb on the letter A should be alongside the hand (it
should not be jutting out).
AGE: Instead of signing, "I/me 25 YEAR OLD" you can sign "I/ME OLD
25" or save some time and effort by signing I/ME
OLD-25_[numerical-incorporation: don't sign "OLD" but rather
start the sign 25 on the chin and bring it forward and down to
your normal finerspelling position]
ALWAYS: This sign sometimes is done by drawing a circle in the
air and then moving the hand forward in a "Y" handshape. The "Y"
handshape is not necessary. It isn't wrong, but it isn't
"needed" either. You can do the sign for always by just circling
and index finger (pointing up) in the air.
ANIMAL: Each hand in the sign ANIMAL pivots in toward the other
hand and then out toward your sides, then repeats. It doesn't
pivot up and down.
ARE: The sign ARE is not used in ASL.
AUNT: When signing AUNT you don't have to be totally "palm
forward" but you need to be forward enough that the sign looks
different from the sign for DAILY/everyday.
BALD: There are four very common signs for BALD. The sign for
BALD that is done on top of the head uses a circular movement.
Any other movement is likely to result in amusement due to
similarity to or being suggestive of one of the versions of the
sign for “gay.”
BANANA: Use small, quick movements. Do the sign rather than
miming the peeling of a banana.
BATHROOM: The "T" sign is sufficient to mean "bathroom." You
don't need to add the BOX sign after the "T" sign to indicate
"room." Some signs such as "BEDROOM" do use the BOX sign (in
combination with BED), but BATHROOM just shakes the "T" and
doesn't add the BOX sign.
BATHROOM: Use the T-handshape version of the sign "BATHROOM." If
you sign BATH-ROOM (the sign BATH followed by the sign ROOM) it
would mean "bathing room."
BATHROOM: Uses a "T" handshape that twists or shakes. Note this
sign doesn't need a separate sign for "room." It is understood
without a separate sign.
BIKE: Use "S" hands not "A" hands.
BOOK: The sign for BOOK tends to have a double "opening"
This rule gets ignored a lot though and thus it isn't much of a
rule and students shouldn't lose points for breaking this rule.
The sign for open-a-BOOK tends to consist of a single
movement done by the dominant hand while the non-dominant hand
stays stationary. However it is also common to see both hands
move for "open-a-BOOK."
BOOKSTORE: Since this is a "compound" sign we drop any extra
movement and condense the whole sign into just two movements.
CAFETERIA: Taps to each side of the chin.
CALIFORNIA: The sign for "California" is based on the sign
for GOLD (the version that still uses a "Y" handshape).
GOLD is a "multiple meaning" sign. California is known as "The
golden State" so the sign GOLD does double duty to mean both
"gold" and "California." The specific meaning depends on
CAN: The sign "can." Both hands move downward at the same time
in one smooth solid motion.
CANDY: While some people sign "SUGAR" or "SWEET" to mean
"candy," it is important to know the standard "CANDY" sign that
twists an index finger on the cheek. That way you could sign,
"CANDY SWEET, WHY? SUGAR!"
CAR: Do NOT initialize the sign CAR when taking an ASL test.
Initialization with a “C” instantly causes this sign to be
considered “Signed English. Either use a small repeated movement
and “S” hands (as if holding the steering wheel), or just spell
it C-A-R. Many Deaf just spell this concept because it is so
CAT: The sign cat starts with an open "F" or "8" handshape and
then closes the "F" or "8" handshape as you slide the hand an
inch to the side, and repeat movement. Do not "rub" the
CEREAL: Change from an index finger into an "X"-hand twice as
you move your hand in front of your mouth toward your
non-dominant side, make sure to end in an X handshape.
CHAIRS: The direction of the fingers indicates the direction of
the chair. So be careful about sticking your chairs facing the
WALL. I suppose that is okay if they are looking out the
CLASS: The sign CLASS is held a bit higher up than "HOW." The
sign CLASS uses more of a horizontal circular movement. The sign
HOW uses more of a forward rolling movement. The hands in CLASS
tend to separate out as they trace the perimeter of a circle.
The hands in HOW tend to stay together, touching at the knuckles
as they roll forward.
CLEAN-up uses a double movement vs CLEAN (the state of being
clean) uses a single movement.
COLD: The movement is both out to the sides then both in toward
the middle, repeated. (Not up and down. We don't want this sign
to look like CAR or DRIVE.)
COLLEGE: The sign COLLEGE starts with the palms together and
then rotates the top hand up and away from the bottom hand.
COLOR-"What_Color?": When asking what color something is, furrow
COLOR: When you sign color with furrowed eyebrows, it is
generally interpreted as "what color?"
COMPUTER: When doing the version of this sign that is on the
wrist or forearm, make sure to use a slight circular movement
not a back and forth a sliding movement.
COOK: The sign cook uses flat hands. The base hand doesn't move.
During high-speed fluent signing often the dominant doesn't make
contact with base hand, but for more deliberate signing the
dominant hand slaps down onto the base hand (palm to palm) and
then the dominant hand flips over. If you curve your hands it
could be misunderstood as HAMBURGER.
DEAF: The sign DEAF moves an index finger from near the ear to
near the mouth. You can also move it from near the mouth to near
the ear. It is commonly done either way in the Deaf Community.
But in general I do it from near the ear to near the mouth. If
you actually touch the ear and/or place the finger "on" the
mouth or lips it would be a "non-standard" way of signing Deaf.
While that might be appropriate for some circumstances in which
you intentionally wish to exaggerate this sign -- it would not
be appropriate for everyday conversation to actually touch the
ear or the lips with the finger. Instead you should just touch
the cheek near the ear and the cheek near the mouth. In faster
more skillful signing, the movement tends to be very short.
DEAF: The sign Deaf uses an "index" finger handshape. (Not an
"L" handshape, nor a "D" handshape.)
DEAF: Uses an index finger not a "D" handshape. If you use a "D"
handshape it means "Dorm."
DO-("What do?") The "what-DO?" sign doesn't need to be followed
by the "WHAT" sign. That is redundant. The what-DO sign already
includes the meaning of "what."
DOCTOR-[medical] vs DOCTOR-[academic] For example: "Dr. Vicars"
is not a "medical doctor" and thus should be signed by spelling
"D" and "R" then "VICARS" or using the namesign of a "V" to the
DOUBLE_LETTERS: One approach to doing double letters during
fingerspelling is to slide, slightly bounce, or reform the
second letter slightly to the side. When doing double letters,
the movement is toward the outside not toward the inside. If you
are right handed you would move further to the right.
E: When you do the letter "E" in general I recommend
that you use the "closed"
version rather than the open version. It looks more natural than
the open form. The closed version
(fingertips resting on side of thumb) is better accepted in the
Deaf Community. The "open version" of the letter "E" is
sometimes called a "Screaming E" because it sort of resembles an
open mouth "screaming." If you do an "open E" it is like
announcing "Hey I'm a HEARING PERSON!" If you do the
letter "E" closed (with the thumb touching the fingers) but
"rounded" it looks too much like an "O." So I recommend you bend
the thumb and rest the fingertips of your index, middle, and
ring, along the top of your thumbnail and and first knuckle. The letter "E" actually
has several versions that are influenced by the preceding letter
in your fingerspelled word. If the preceding letter is an "N"
then the "E" will often rest the tips of just the index and
middle fingers on the thumb. If the preceding letter is an
"M" then the "E" will rest the tips of the index, middle, and
ring fingers on the thumb.
EGGS: The sign Eggs uses an "H" handshape, not index fingers.
ENGINE: The fingers are bent (not straight).
FALL (as in "autumn): The movement is done by the dominant hand.
The non-dominant hand is in a "5" handshape (as if representing
a tree) and doesn't move. The dominant hand brushes
downward along the "trunk" of the tree as if representing leaves
EQUAL, the palms are each facing in, not down. The tips of the
fingers come together.
INITIALS: When doing "initials" such as the U and the S in the
concept of "U.S." (as in "the United States") the letter is
moved in a very small vertical circle (as if drawing a small
circle on a wall. That movement indicates that the letter
is an "initial" for something and not just regular spelling.
FAVORITE: When signing favorite, use a jabbing motion not a
FEEL: is done in the middle or a bit to the dominant side of the
chest, (not on the belly).
FEW: The sign FEW only uses one hand. Start with a palm-back “A”
handshape and move it slightly to the outside as you extend the
index, then the middle, then the ring, then pinkie fingers, in a
smooth movement. (As if counting a few items).
FINGERSPELL: The movement of the main version of the sign for
"fingerspell" is toward the outside. Thus if you are left-handed
your hand should still move toward the outside (or your left
side). If you are right handed the sign should move toward your
FINGERSPELLING: "Double letters": Suppose you are
spelling the name "Debbie." The double letters "BB" in Debbie
would look better if you used a small slide rather than showing
each individual letter. It depends on the "letter" involved. For
example, for the name "Jennifer," I tend to reform the "N"
letters rather than slide them.
FINGERSPELLING: BOUNCE: When fingerspellling pretend that your
elbow is on a table (not for real, but just imagine). Note how
with your elbow on the (imaginary) table your hand doesn't bob
up and down in the air as you spell? That helps to make sure
your hand doesn't bounce up and down as you spell words.
FINGERSPELLING: POSITION: When fingerspellling, keep your hand
within about 8 to 16 inches from your face. If you hold your
hand too far to the side or too low it makes it hard to read
your fingerspelling and see your face at the same time.
FINGERSPELLING: While fingerspellling, keep your hand in the
same place except for the small slide for the double letters.
You don't want to end up way off to the side.
FINISH: This sign uses the "5-handshape" on each hand (fingers
FLORIDA: The concept of Florida is expressed by spelling
FLOWER: The sign flower uses a flattened "O" handshape,
FOOD: The sign "FOOD" uses the same contact location each time.
(It doesn't actually have to make contact either.) If you change
the contact point you could end up looking like you are signing
a "low" version of "FLOWER." So, do the sign FOOD at the center
of your mouth for both movements.
FROM: The dominant hand should be the hand that "pulls
FROM: The palm-side of the non-dominant hand should be
aimed toward the dominant hand. The non-dominant hand should not
FUTURE/WILL: The sign FUTURE doesn't touch the head.
GO: The sign GO uses index fingers (not flat hands).
GOAL: Slightly elevate the non-dominant hand. Then move the
dominant hand toward it in a firm movement but don't actually
touch the non-dominant hand. Note: you can indicate "long term
goals" by holding the base hand further out and using a larger
HAIR: Uses an "open F" handshape that closes into a normal "F"
HANGERS: If you are referring to hanging up clothing, make sure
to elevate the "hanging up clothes" sign a bit.
HARD: uses a single striking motion onto the back or side of the
non-dominant "S" or "bent V" hand.
HARD-of-HEARING: The sign HARD-OF-HEARING should move
toward the dominant side.
HAVE: Uses "bent-b" handshapes that touch the chest.
HE/SHE/HIM/HER: When indexing an absent person it is best to
default to your dominant side (rather than pointing across your
HEARING: The rotation of the sign HEARING is up, out, down, and
back in again.
HERE vs WHAT: The sign HERE uses a very slight circular movement
[forward, side, back, forward]. The sign WHAT uses a bit of a
hunch, the fingers are spread out more, and there is no circular
High School: This sign is done by doing the letters "H" and "S."
HIM/HER: uses only one hand
HOME: Start on the cheek near the mouth. End on the cheek near
the ear. You may see some people do it the opposite way,
but it is more common to start near the mouth.
HORSE: The sign HORSE is generally only done with "one hand"
(not two hands). Adult Deaf skilled signers do the sign HORSE
with only one hand in everyday conversation. In the Lifeprint
lessons this sign is demonstrated with only one hand. If a
student does this sign with two hands indicates that the student
needs to spend more time reviewing the lessons and not relying
on old information and/or outdated sources. The only time I'd
suggest using two hands on a sign such as HORSE is if you were
telling a very animated story to very young children, (such as
in a pre-school situation = "motherese").
HOUR: The sign for "HOUR" should use an "index/1" finger on the
dominant hand (not a "D" handshape).
HOW-MANY: The sign "HOW-MANY" doesn't need the sign "HOW,"
instead it just uses the sign MANY but changes the movement. Instead of moving forward,
HOW-MANY moves upward a
couple of inches. Additionally, the facial expression for
"HOW-MANY" is a "Wh"-type facial expression wherein the eyebrows
are narrowed. You may see some people signing the sign HOW-MANY
by using both signs (HOW and MANY) but they are wasting effort.
ASL doesn’t use an initialized version of the sign “I.” (That is
"Signed English.) The sign for "I" in ASL is done by pointing at
yourself with your index finger, or it is incorporated into the
beginning location of certain verbs such as " I-GIVE-him"
wherein a separate sign for "I or me" is not needed since the
sign starts near the body and moves toward "him." Do not use the palm of the hand unless
you mean "my."
IN: When signing a phrase like, "I live in …(such and such a
place)" you don't need to do the sign "IN." Just drop that sign.
If you do sign “IN” for that type of sentence it turns your
signing into “Signed English” and causes you to look like you
don’t know ASL.
INDEX_FINGER: The index finger handshape is different from
a "D" handshape. The "index finger" handshape wraps the thumb
across the front of the compacted hand (with the index finger
sticking up). The "D" handshape touches the tip of the
thumb to tip of the middle finger (or middle and ring fingers)
thus creating a hollow hand. Make sure you use an INDEX finger
handshape and not a "D" handshape when doing such signs as
"SIGN" and or doing the number "1." (Since the number "1" uses
an index finger handshape and not a "D" handshape).
INDEXING: When setting up the people in your story, it is
important that you don't put one person on top of another. For
example SHE and YOUR. The sign YOUR is done toward the person
watching you sign. The sign SHE is generally done off to the
right (but can be elsewhere if some other referent has already
been established off to the right, or if the person (SHE) is
visible in the area you can point in her direction. The sign YOU
would be done in the direction of the person to whom you are
INITIALIZATION: “Over initialization of signs” happens when you
overdo the use of the initial letter of an English word as the
handshape of an ASL sign. Over initialization causes a person’s
signing to appear “English-like.” For example, the sign if a
person puts an “F” on the sign for “AUTUMN/FALL” it turns the
ASL sign into a “Signed English” version. Adult native Deaf
signers who are socially active in the Deaf Community do not
initialize the sign “FALL” with an “F” handshape. Thus if you
initialize your signs it tends to causes your signing to look
“odd.” Many signs however are commonly initialized in ASL. How
do you know which ones? You take lots of classes and/or spend
thousands of hours interacting with skilled adult native
IS: ASL doesn’t use the sign “IS.” When signing something like
"My name is Jane," you should simply sign MY NAME J-A-N-E.
K: The letter "K" needs to be done in such a way that it looks
different from a "V." Do not do a "V" with the thumb in
the middle. To make a "K" point your index finger straight
up and point your middle finger mostly forward.
KNOW vs THINK: The general basic sign "THINK" uses a single
index finger that touches the forehead (a bit to the side). The
sign "KNOW" uses the fingertips of a bent hand. (A bent hand is
like a "b-hand" (thumb alongside, not tucked under) that is bent
at the large knuckles (bent, not curved).
LIKE: The ending handshape of the sign LIKE is an "8" handshape.
To do the sign "LIKE" right -- you need to extend the ring and
pinkie fingers as well as the index finger.
LIVE: Use "A" handshapes instead of "S" handshapes.
LIVE: I recommend you avoid excessive initialization. If your
local instructor or friend insists you do "LIVE" with an "L"
there is no need to argue, just do it the way the locals do it,
but keep in the back of your mind that the more you initialize
signs, the more it looks like you are signing English and not
ASL. While the "L" version is "okay," the "A" version is
considered "more ASL" by many adult Deaf native ASL
signers. This isn't a "right or wrong"
issue. It is simply the way the Deaf Community is starting to
move: More pride in our language equals less of a desire to
cause our language to look like the language of the dominant
society. That in turn leads to active efforts (by many) to avoid
MAJOR: When doing the sign for major, the non-dominant hand
should not move. The dominant hand should slide forward along
the top of the stationary non-dominant hand.
MARRY or MARRIAGE: The dominant hand should be on top. The
non-dominant hand should be below and not actively move.
MAKE: Uses "S" handshapes
MEET: "Did you meet ____?" When doing a "Did you meet _____?"
type question, your eyebrows should be up (since it is a yes or
no question). Also the dominant hand moves toward the stationary
non-dominant hand. The non-dominant hand should be off to the
side a bit to indicate a third-person pronoun/classifier.
MEET-you: Keep the fingers pointing mostly upright. Do not let
this sign turn into a horizontal sign.
MEET-you: Do not touch the tips of the index fingers. Use "index
finger handshapes - not "D" handshapes.
MEET-you: The dominant hand should start from near the body, palm-side
facing forward and moves toward the non-dominant hand. The
non-dominant hand should be held out from the body palm-side facing
toward the body and doesn't move during this sign.
MEET: "to-MEET-you" can be shown with one sign (if done
directionally). You don't need to add the separate sign YOU if
you hold the non-dominant hand away from your body (with the
palm-side facing back).
MILK: Opens and closes from a "C" into an "S" twice. Your arm
doesn't move up and down. The location of the sign is out from
the body and not near the chin at all. (We don't want to be
misunderstood as meaning "HOW-OLD?"
MILK: uses only one hand. Opens and closes from a "C" into an
"S" twice. The hand doesn't move up and down, it just
MINUS: The “take away” version of the sign MINUS should end in
an “S” handshape.
MOST: The sign most uses "A" handshapes. The non-dominant hand
is stationary. The dominant hand starts below the non-dominant
hand. The dominant hand moves upward and past the non-dominant
hand. The dominant hand usually brushes against the non-dominant
MOTORCYCLE: You should only twist the right hand (not both
hands) since the gas control is on the right.
MOVEMENT: REPETITIONS: In general signs tend to have only one or
two movements. Sometimes well-meaning teachers repeat the
movement of a sign three or more times so that their students
can better catch how the sign is moved. Unfortunately the
student may think that the sign is indeed repeated multiple
times. For example, perhaps the instructor teaches the sign
“BANANA” and shows the “peeling” movement 3 times. That is not
how the sign is produced in everyday signed conversation between
native Deaf signers. While it is true that if you interview 10
native Deaf signers regarding the sign for BANANA you will
likely see a variety of handshapes and movement paths but for
the most part you will only see two movements not three. It is a
matter of efficiency.
MOVIE: The sign for movie uses a side to side twist, the fingers
do not "flutter."
MY vs I: The sign for MY is a flat hand. The (ASL) sign for "I"
is done by pointing at yourself with an index finger. To
sign "My name is..." you can use: "MY NAME ..." to sign "I
am Jane," just point to yourself with an index finger then spell
NAME: When signing "NAME" your dominant hand should be on top.
NEIGHBOR: This sign has several variations. For clarity you
should add the PERSON (non-initialized) sign to it to
distinguish the sign from the sign NEAR.
NUMBER: The sign for "number" uses a twisting movement prior to
each contact. Compare and contrast this sign with the sign
for "more." The sign "MORE" doesn't twist it simply makes
NUMBER: 23: Make sure you are familiar with the "fluttering
middle finger" version of the sign "23."
NUMBER: 25: Make sure you are familiar with the fluttering
middle finger version of the sign "25."
NUMBERING: See: http://lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/numbersdiscussion.htm
NUMBERING: In general, when done as isolated signs, numbers 1
through 5" should be done "palm back." Depending on the
situation though, numbers 1 through 5 are sometimes done palm
forward. For example, when they are part of a series of numbers,
when you are doing "time of day" signs, when you are signing
ages, and when you are trying to emphasize something. Some
teachers will mark you wrong if you do numbers 1 through 5
palm-forward. So find out what your local teacher wants since
some teachers are particular about wanting numbers 1 through 5
palm back when they are done as isolated numbers.
NUMBERS 1 - 9 do not twist unless you are trying to do $1, $2,
NUMBERS: "2" - The non-emphasized number 2, when done in
isolation is done palm back with the index and middle finger
spread. (It looks like a backwards "V," -- NOT a "U".)
NUMBERS 1-5 are palm back when done in "isolation." They are
palm forward when done in a series of other numbers such as a
two or more digit number, a
phone number, a street address, or a zip code.
NUMBERS 6 through 9 should be palm forward.
NUMBER 15: The thumb points out to the side and doesn't move.
The four fingers bend at the large knuckles, twice.
NUMBERS 16 - 19: When signing the numbers 16 - 19 the twist is
toward the front not toward the back.
NUMBERS 16 - 19: The "ten+six, ten+seven, ten+eight, and ten+nine" version
of numbers 16-19 is "okay." It is simply one more variation. But note that the
initial "10" loses its internal movement and becomes simply an
"A" handshape, pinkie-side down and then uses a single twist as
it changes to a 6, 7, 8, or 9.
NUMBERS: 20: The number 20 looks like a "G" that closes twice.
NUMBERS: 23 through 29 are palm forward.
NUMBERS: The numbers 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29 are done "in
place." There is no (or almost no) sideways movement in these
NUMBERS: The recommended version of numbers 24, 26, 27, 28, and
29 all tend to look like an "L" as the first digit followed by
the 2nd digit. For example: "L4" would be "24." But don't think
of it as an "L" – it is just a handshape that can mean many
things and in this context it indicates that the number you are
talking about is in the "twenties." An "okay" but not
recommended way to sign 24, 26, 27, 28, and 29 is to show a palm
forward "2" followed by the other digit.
NUMBERS: When doing 2, 3, 4, 5, (and similar numbers) make sure
to spread the extended fingers a bit. (We don't want a "2" to
look like an "H" or a "U," nor do we want a "6" to look like a
Boy Scout hand-sign.
NUMBER 100: Start with an "index" finger, not a "D"-handshape.
NUMBER: 100: Do the number 100 with more of a "C" shape after
the "1" not an "E" handshape.
NUMBER: 1,000: The dominant hand does the movement. It should
start as a "1" handshape and then form a bent-hand and touch the
fingertips to the palm of the flat base-hand.
OLD: The sign for old starts as a palm-back "C" hand and
then changes into an "S" hand. (It doesn't start as a
palm-up open-B hand that changes into a flat-O hand -- that
ON: The sign "ON" is rarely used in ASL. You do not need it
for concepts such as "I live on Yancy Street." Nor do you need
it for concepts such as "I work on Mondays." In both of
those situations you can just drop the sign ON since the meaning
is clear without it.
ON-TIME: The sign "ON-TIME" is done somewhat like the sign for
TIME, except "ON-TIME" starts higher, does a sharp movement
downward, makes contact but doesn't stop, and bounces back up
about six inches. The sharpness of the movement and high
bounce off of the wrist emphasize that we are discussing
punctuality and not just "time."
OR: When comparing two things, you can express the concept of
"or" by using a side to side body shift.
PEOPLE: Either do this sign with the palms pointing downward or forward but
not inward. (The middle finger of each hand points downward or
forward but not toward the other hand.) Some people circle the
hands backwards, some circle the hands forwards, do it however
you see your instructor or local Deaf do it.
PREFER: On the "body based" version of PREFER at the beginning
of the sign the tip of the hand is actually touching the body
and then moves to the side while turning into an "A" handshape.
PICTURE: When done casually this sign is produced by placing the
pinkie side of the dominant hand onto the palm of the
non-dominant flat hand.
PIZZA: When doing any of the spelled versions of PIZZA, make
sure to end in an "A." Sure, there are lots of variations, but
ending in an "A" is more clear and further distinguishes the
sign PIZZA from the sign for SNAKE.
QUESTION MARK: If you are using your facial expressions
correctly the question mark sign doesn't need to be shown each
time you end a sentence. We already know you asked a question
because we can see it on your face. We only need to add the
question mark if the sentence structure is such that there may
be some doubt that we are asking a question. Sometimes we add a
question mark for emphasis but it is not a part of "every"
RECENTLY: Uses an "X" handshape, pointing backwards. The
handshape extends and flexes the index finger a couple times.
RESTLESS-sitting/ANXIOUS: The base hand extends the index and
middle fingers. (Two fingers, not just one.)
Rhetorical-WHERE: When asking a rhetorical question such as "I
work where?" You actually raise the eyebrows instead of lowering
them. That is because such a rhetorical question really means:
"Do you want to know where I work?" That is a yes or no question
and thus should have eyebrows up not down. If you were really
asking someone where they work, then yes, of course you would
furrow your eyebrows, but when asking a "rhetorical question"
you are expecting the other person to actually respond and tell
you where you work. Rather you are hoping they will lean forward
and pay attention.
RIGHT-side: If something is on your right and you are "right
hand dominant" then you will want to turn the thumbside down and
pat toward the right with your palm facing right. (It is a bit
of an awkward sign) but the point is the palm-side of your hand
indicates which side the referent is on. So if it is on your
right and you are right handed you are going to have to twist
your hand till the thumb is down and then pat toward the right.
SCHOOL: Keep the hands flat. Don't curve the hands or it looks
too much like "marriage."
SECRET: Taps the middle of the chin twice.
SEE-her: can be done with one hand, palm back, moving toward the
SENIOR: When signing "senior" as in a "senior" in high school or
college, both the dominant hand and the non-dominant hand should
be in "5" handshapes.
SEPARATED: Uses "loose C" hands or "Curved hands" that change to
"A" hands. If you use a "D" handshape it means "Divorce."
SHE is generally done off to the right (but can be elsewhere if
some other referent has already been established off to the
right, or if the person (SHE) is visible in the area you can
point in her direction. The sign YOU would be done in the
direction of the person to whom you are conversing.
SICK: The sign sick makes contact using the middle fingers not
the index fingers.
SIGN: The standard sign for “SIGN” as in “signing,” uses “INDEX”
finger handshapes, (not “D” hands).
SIZE: The sign for size or measure uses "Y" hands, not "A" hands
with the thumbs extended. Stick out both the pinkie and the
thumb on each hand.
SLEEP: The sign for "SLEEP" only uses one hand.
STORE: Do the sign store in the neutral area in front of your
chest and/or stomach. Don’t hold the sign at "head level" or it
will look odd.
STUDENT: When signing "STUDENT" your non-dominant hand should
stay down near your torso and not move up toward your head when
you move the dominant hand upward. We want to avoid looking as
if we are combining the signs STUDENT and TEACHER.
TEACHER: Do not use a grabbing movement. Just position your
hands near your forehead in squashed "O" shapes. Do not actually
touch your head. This sign is often started much lower. The sign
TEACHER tends to use only one forward movement in the "TEACH"
portion of the sign followed by the downward (person) movement.
This is a compound sign and thus internal movement is dropped.
TELL: Uses an index finger that starts palm back with the pad
touching the chin and then the hand is moved so that the tip of
the index finger moves forward and down in an arc.
TELL-me: starts with and Index finger held about four inches in
front of the chin and then moves in and grazes the chin with the
tip of the index finger. The tip of the finger continues moving
until it makes contact with the chest.
TENNESSEE: When signing " Tennessee" you just spell "T-E-N-N"
THANK-YOU: The sign doesn't use the base hand. If you use the
base hand it may be confused with "GOOD."
THEM: The concept of "them" is expressed via a short sweeping
movement. If you use a jab it generally means "he, she, or it."
(Since you jab at a singular place in the air.)
THINK: Feedback: The general basic sign "THINK" uses a single
index finger. The sign "KNOW" uses the fingertips of a bent
hand. (A bent hand is like a "b-hand" (thumb alongside, not
tucked under) that is bent at the large knuckles (bent, not
THINK: The general basic sign "THINK" uses a single index
finger. The sign "KNOW" uses the fingertips of a bent hand. (A
bent hand is like a "b-hand" (thumb alongside, not tucked under)
that is bent at the large knuckles (bent, not curved).
THIS: When referring to "this room" you would simply point
downward prior to signing ROOM. When signing "this afternoon"
use the "NOW" sign with the sign AFTERNOON.
TOILET: The default interpretation of the "BATHROOM" sign is
"bathroom" rather than "toilet." It is true that this sign means
both concepts but for everyday interpretation we interpret it as
TONIGHT: The sign "TONIGHT" uses a combination of NOW and
UPSTAIRS: The sign UPSTAIRS uses two quick jabbing movements of
the index finger. The location (place in space where you do the
sign) is generally no higher than your head. If you just do a
single movement it would mean "up" but not upstairs.
W: Do the letter "W" palm forward. (Unless you are signing
"Wednesday." When signing Wednesday the advanced form of the
sign is palm "up/back" --the palm pointing over your shoulder
actually-- the fingertips are pointing forward/up). But in
general "W" is palm forward and somewhat to the left (if you are
right handed) for comfort reasons. (It hurts to have it
WATCH: When referring to watching something in a casual manner,
use the bent-L handshape version of this sign. See:
WEATHER: The palm orientation for the initialized version of
"WEATHER is palm forward (and maybe a little bit palm down-but
mostly palm forward).
WEB or WEBSITE: The sign for "WEB" varies. A safe way to express
it is to spell "W-E-B." Some people sign it as "WW." This is a
shorted (lexicalized) form of the idea of showing W-W-W (the
handshape, location, and movement are actually very similar to
the how we sign the number "66." This is different from the sign
"INTERNET" which uses the "five"-handshape on each hand with the
middle fingers bent at the large knuckles.WHEN: The sign for
when tends to use a clockwise movement.
WH-type QUESTIONS: Wh-type questions such as those using
signs like WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW, and HOW-MANY use lowered eyebrows
(unless they are rhetorical questions or the greeting "How are
you." Rhetoricals and greetings are exceptions to this rule).
WHERE: The movement is in the wrist and not in the large
WHICH uses "A" handshapes with somewhat loose thumbs. (Raise the
thumbs a bit.) So it doesn't look like "DRIVE."
WHAT-KIND: The sign "WHAT-KIND" uses a forward, down, back, up
rotating movement. (Not the other direction).
WORK: In general, the citation form of the sign WORK uses a
double movement and the base hand doesn't move. If you move both
hands downward it could be misunderstood as "HABIT." During high
speed signing of phrases, you may indeed see the sign work done
with a single movement.
X: The thumb is NOT tucked in when doing the letter “X.” It just
takes too much time. While it is true that some old ABC charts
showed it tucked in, doing so just isn’t efficient for actual
everyday signing. Instead the thumb is bent just enough to make
slight contact with the middle finger. The only time I can
remember actually signing anything that tucked in an “X” was
back when computer chip manufacturers came out with a chip
called an “MX.”
YEAR: "one year": The sign "ONE-YEAR" starts with the number one
on the dominant hand. Then as the dominant hand moves around the
non-dominant hand it changes into an "S" shape.
YES/NO Sentence Type: Yes or No type questions should generally end with the
eyebrows up. When signing YES/NO Sentences, (sentences that can
be answered with a yes or no), for example if you were to ask
someone "Are you married?" – you should raise your eyebrows.
So, remember, if asking a question that can be answered with a
yes or a no (such as “Do you have a picture of your family?”)
you should raise your eyebrows.
YESTERDAY doesn't drag along the chin. It touches, then arcs out
a bit and backward and then ends with a touch. It can use either
an "A" hand or a "Y" hand. (Check with your local Deaf to see
which they prefer.) You will see it either way in the wider Deaf
community, but most ASL teachers prefer for their students to
avoid using excessive initialization.
YOU vs YOUR: The sign YOU points at the referent with an index
finger. The sign YOUR points toward the referent with the palm
of a flat hand.
YOUR. The sign YOUR is done toward the person watching you sign.
The handshape is a “flat hand.” The palm is toward the person to
whom you are signing. The fingertips are pointing upward.
K: Make sure to articulate your K's so that they don't look
like V's. Make sure the middle finger points forward enough to
distinguish the K from a V.
03 / THREE: The number "3" uses the thumb, index, and middle
fingers (not the index, middle, and ring fingers).
EIGHT: Make sure to articulate your 8's clearly. Sometimes you
have a sticky ring finger that resists pointing upward.
22 /TWENTY-TWO: The number 22 uses a "V" hand not an "L" hand.
(Perhaps you've picked up a regional variation but in general
"L" is not commonly used for the number "22."
22 / TWENTY-TWO: The bounce is toward the dominant side not the
CALIFORNIA: comes from near the ear (not so much the cheek).
Memory aid: California is the golden state. People wear gold ear
rings. The (older and still best) sign for GOLD points at the
ear and then signs "YELLOW." This sign has evolved over the
years to use mean "California" (sometimes starting with a "5"
handshape as the middle finger of the five handshape points at
Double Letters: When doing double letters, do them toward the
outside. For example, if you are going to spell MASS (short for
Massachusetts) or CHESS (as in the game of "chess") when you get
to S's you move the hand slightly to the right (if you are right
@ or AT: The "AT" sign (as in @) is used only for email
addresses or similar typography. It is not used for sentences
such as "I work at the library." For such a sentence you would
sign: "I WORK LIBRARY" or "I WORK INDEX LIBRARY" or "I WORK
NANTUCKET LIBRARY" "I WORK WHERE? LIBRARY."
FISHING vs "cast your line": The sign for FISHING uses a double
movement. The movement is much smaller than "to cast a fishing
THIS: The sign for "THIS" (as in "THIS CITY BOOKSTORE how-MANY?)
uses only one hand (not two hands).
VEGETABLE: There are a couple ways to do vegetable. If you do
the pivot version the palm should be palm forward (not palm
WHO: The index finger circling the mouth version of WHO is a
lesser used version that seems to have been more popular in the
"old days" but isn't as popular these days.
Compare: HELLO vs DON'T-KNOW
Compare: DEAF vs HOME
Compare: ANY vs OTHER
Compare: WANT vs HAVE
Compare: K vs P
A number of you are signing in English word order for
everything and including unnecessary elements from English
structure in your signing such as AND, IN, or direct English
phrases that are much better conveyed in ASL structure.
In addition, I'm seeing a lot of English mouthing. Granted many
Deaf people do mouth, especially when signing with ASL students,
however the more you mouth the more you are thinking in English
and handcuffing yourself to English word order. Unlock the
handcuffs and unlock the visual imagination. Exploit the
possibilities of ASL in how you structure your bios. Let go of
English. See the story as a visual film on the screen of your
mind. Now work from that and create directly into ASL. Forget
First make sure your setting the stage with your timeline of
past to present and the chronology of what happens in ASL. It
will make things clearer for now if you don't jump back and
forth between time periods. Next think about how to exploit the
use of space. ASL is a visual/spatial language the more you use
those elements the more your stories will rely on ASL structure
and become visually interesting and engaging. Use that
contrastive structure that you learned in ASL 1 to compare and
contrast anything relevant to your story. For example as a
common theme people often in their past encounter ASL or Deaf
people, get curious and then when they take ASL or get close to
Deaf people realize something new. Set up the past vs. the
present and future clearly throughout the story. Use placement
and spatial aspects to demonstrate transformation or contrasting
ideas or to indicate different characters in the story-- be
consistent with your placement. Think VISUAL. Think SPATIAL.
Now, for two words on rhetorical questions: facial expression.
Many of you are attempting them, using WHY? or WHEN? but you are
not using appropriate facial expression. Rhetorical questions
use an eyebrow raise and particular body posture, if you just
sign WHY without the accompanying grammatical facial and body
expression it doesn't work. Pay attention to the pacing and flow
of the phrases you are stringing together so that pauses occur
between phrases and not awkwardly in the middle of phrases
otherwise the whole discourse becomes choppy and difficult to
follow. Also, often you are overusing this structure without
real purpose. Rhetorical questions are often meant to draw
attention to a particularly interesting or surprising point or
to emphasize something for a purpose. So try using these kinds
of structures more strategically.
Remember those conjunctions like HAPPEN, WRONG, etc from your
ASL 3 & 4 classes? Consider using these in appropriate ways as
connectors in the discourse. Think about what you have learned
in your ASL structure class about the differences between ASL
grammar and English grammar and aim for ASL.
Facial expression is so important…for grammatical aspects such
as rhetorical structure, as well as for tone and visual
interest. If you have a blank face, your audience has already
tuned out. Practice enough so that you are not thinking about
what you are going to say next or thinking about the content but
you are flowing with your expression naturally.
In terms of the practicalities of the video---Most people did a
good job in this regard. Here are just a few reminders: Make
sure there is nothing visually distracting in the background of
your video. Wear a color that contrasts well with your skin in
the lighting you will be filming rather than so that your hands
are easily visible. Make sure the camera is in focus and framed
as close up as you can (FATHER/NOW) without cutting off the
An email sent to a Deaf student:
First of all I want you to know that it is obvious to me that
you are already a fairly skilled signer and that you have quite
a bit of signing experience from outside this course. Just from
the short sample I can tell you are one of the following Deaf/hh,
CODA (child of Deaf parents), have a Deaf brother or sister, or
are otherwise immersed in some aspect of the Deaf world.
I also want you to know up front that I'm granting you an "A"
grade on your video exam at 95% and 238 out of 250 points.
You may wonder why you are getting 95% and not 100%.
It is because you are not signing "ASL" you are signing
something that has been traditionally been referred to as PSE or
"Pidgin Signed English" or more recently simply called "contact
It is also obvious to me that the signing you know wasn't
learned from the lessons in this course but rather you already
knew sign language. That is certainly okay. Life is like that.
We learn on our own and sometimes we apply that pre-existing
knowledge to courses we take in school Bravo! That is a good
My goal then for this bit of feedback is to give you some
suggestions regarding how to pass an ASLPI (American Sign
Language Proficiency Interview) if someday you are called upon
to do so. I also wish to alert you to a few differences between
regional signing and a bit more widely recognized versions or
versions that tend to show up on the hands of native Deaf adults
who have attended major residential schools for the Deaf.
Please remember that these are not criticisms of your signing
but rather tips for widening your range of signing and for
helping to insure that when needed you can confine your signing
to ASL grammar structures and sign variations.
So, let's get started:
I noticed that you use the sign "IS." American Sign Language
doesn't use signs for "state of being verbs."
When signing a sentence in ASL you
don't use state of being verbs, (is, am, was, were, are, be,
being, been...). For example: I am happy
would be signed, I HAPPY while nodding my head and smiling.
If I wanted to sign I'm not happy,
I'd sign I HAPPY while shaking my head negatively and
frowning a bit or pursing my lips.
To affirm that a thing or state exists in ASL you nod your head.
When negating the existence of a state or thing in ASL you shake
While ASL doesn't use signs for "be verbs" for everyday
communication -- there are signs for referring to be
verbs. Read that again if you need to. That sentence could get
you in trouble with your local teacher. My point is that in ASL
"be verb" signs are reserved for situations where you are
English. For example, a teacher in an English class at a Deaf
school might use signs for "is, am, was, were, be, being, been"
and so forth to talk about the
English language while teaching an English class. But ASL itself
doesn't use "be verbs." Most ASL instructors will tell you ASL
doesn't use "be verbs" -- and they are right in that the grammar
of ASL doesn't require a "subject + be- verb + adjective"
type of sentence. Instead ASL tends to use a "subject +
predicate" type of structure. ("Predicate" is just a fancy word
that means "say something about.") You might call that a
topic + comment sentence structure. Some people say that
ASL doesn't use a "Subject-Verb-Object" (SVO) sentence
structure. That is not true. ASL uses a variety of sentence
types and does indeed make use of SVO sentence structure (in
addition to other structures). For example: I GO STORE uses
a subject-verb-object structure. So, remember ASL uses many
different sentence structures (just like all other real languages).
For more information on this topic check out the grammar
sections in the Lifeprint Library.
Don't let the gloss fool you, ("gloss" is what
you call it when you write one language in another language.)
Just because I didn't type the words "am" and "to" doesn't mean
that the function of "am"
and "to" aren't being taken care of. The function of these
words is to indicate affirmation or existence. The function
of the word "am" in that sentence is replaced by a slight nod of
the head; and "to" is incorporated in the movement and direction
of the sign for GO. The sign GO actually means, "go to."
There is much more to ASL than can be easily typed onto a flat
Let's get really clear on this--if someone asks you, "Does ASL
use 'be' verbs?" -- you should answer "No." If I ask you on a
quiz in this curriculum, Does ASL have 'be' verbs? you
should answer "No." But in the back of your head remember that
there are Signed English signs for "IS," "BE, WAS, WERE"
-- we just don't use them as verbs in ASL and when we do use
them it is to sign in English
(or PSE – but not ASL) or to talk about English.
When I saw you sign "named / CALLED" using a single motion it
was obvious to me that you are an advanced signer since you used
the verb form of the sign NAME. The noun form uses a double
movement but the verb form (and also fast signing often) uses a
I notice that when signing "what kind" you use two movements.
That is "okay" but I want you to know that you can sign the word
"KIND" and use the furrowed eyebrows without using the separate
sign "WHAT" thus we have "what-KIND" instead of WHAT KIND. You
can save a bit of work and look a bit more like ASL in your
signing rather than signed English.
DRESS / "a dress" You may wish to do your sign for "dress" (as
in do you like to wear a dress) a bit larger and with a single
movement to distinguish it from the concept of "clothing." For
example, consider how you would sign something like: "Is a dress
your favorite piece of clothing?" Yes? Then hurry up and get
dressed in your dress!" Sure that is a weird sentence but my
point is that it is a way to practice and think about "how" you
would sign such a sentence if you had to.
WINTER vs WEATHER: I notice that you brought your hands
downward when signing WINTER. Actually WINTER doesn't bring the
hands downward since that changes the sign into a version of
I notice that you used the sign "ON." While many Deaf do indeed
use "ON" for various reasons, I encourage you to consider how
you would sign sentences without using "ON." For example: WATCH
MOVIE, YOU LIKE CLOSE-CAPTION?
My point is that "ON" is a preposition that in ASL tends to
literally mean that something is "on top of" something else.
However, in English we often use "on" to function in other ways
such as "the meeting is on Tuesday."
Sentence Structure Issues
Consider the sentence: " When child which you prefer work at
when you grow up?"
signed: WHEN CHILD WHICH YOU PREFER WORK AT WHEN YOU GROW-UP
Now consider this structure instead: PAST-[long-ago] YOURSELF
LITTLE-GIRL/BOY WANT GROW-UP FUTURE what-DO? (When you were a
little girl/boy what did you want to be?)
My point is to make sure you are familiar with the "what-DO"
sign and also to get in the habit of putting your WH-type
questions at the end of your sentences.
For example, You signed: WHAT YOUR FAVORITE BOOK NAME?
Instead try signing: YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, what-NAME?
Use slightly raised eyebrows for the first part of the sentence
and then furrowed eyebrows for the second part of the sentence.
Your numbers were fine. However you are using a regional
variation for 16 – 19.
You are also using a "less advanced" version of 23 -29 than is
used by many native Deaf adults.
Go to this link and watch the short video in the top right to
see a bit more widely used version. This isn't a matter of right
and wrong, just making sure you are aware of the more widely
used version. In your area you should certainly use the version
that local native Deaf adults are using:
So, if you have read this far and would like to get an even
better handle on ASL signing structure, visit the following two
Again, I want to point out that it is obvious to me that you are
a really good signer. The above tips and suggestions are simply
to help you become an even better ASL signer.
Dr. Bill Vicars