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American Sign Language Grammar:

See: ASL Grammar Discussions and Articles

As with any language, ASL has its own grammar.  Here are a few samples:

Also check out the following topics to get more of a feel for how the language works:

  • Indexing - Use the index finger to indicate I-me, you, we, they, he-she-it
  • Possession - What belongs to whom.
  • Classifiers - Represent categories of objects, concepts, shapes, or sizes with specific handshapes.

Culture Outline

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Note to readers: I will be creating an expanded "grammar index" from the links below.

American Sign Language: Grammar Index
Language:  ASL is a language.  Linguists (people who study languages) have identified the characteristics that most languages tend to have.  ASL is considered a language because it has the characteristics of a language.  [If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck--it is a duck.]

Grammar:  ASL has its own unique grammar system. 

Voicing:  Do not voice while signing.  You can not speak English or speak any other language while signing ASL because the grammar systems are different.

ASL has a grammar system that is different from that of any spoken language. You will not be able to speak English at the same time as you sign ASL since the two languages have different grammar systems.

[Note: There are forms of communication that do use voice and sign at the same time, (simultaneous communication, bimodal bilingualism, etc.), but they are not ASL.]

Topic / comment

Subject Verb Object


Adverbs (degree and intensity)

Time indicators

Wh questions

Yes no questions



Exclamations: example: "I worked all day. I'm tired!"

indexing and pronouns

No state of being verbs: is are was were be being been. Existence is inferred, or you can sign "HAVE" FINISH ESTABLISH, TRUE, "LONG-AGO" "SINCE"


Duration (temporal aspect) = inflection for intermittency


Negatives (headshake or separate sign)

Reversal of orientation for negation
Chronology (events are described in the sequence in which they take place)


Location as a method of indicating the subject or object ("The three of them" vs "The three of us.")

Parameters: Handshape, Orientation, Location, Movement

Non-manual markers:

Mouth morphemes

Kinesthetic evolution (ergonomic) / economy of motion

Question expression:  The expressions you use to indicate a sentence is a question tend to occur at the end of a sentence.  This explains why you see sentences that look like: "ASL TEACHER YOU?" with the eyebrows raised while signing "YOU." Which basically means "ASL teacher (are) you (an)?" Which, in English, would be expressed as, "Are you an ASL teacher?"
Compare that with, "YOU ASL TEACHER, WHO?" with the eyebrows raised a bit to  lowered while signing "WHO."