ASL Sentence types

The basic sentence structure of ASL is subject-verb, or if there is an object, subject-verb-object. But there are many different ways to produce an ASL sentence. Here are the non-manual signals associated with different orders.

Simple sentence (aka “uninflected sentence”)

Basic simple sentence

The basic sentence order in ASL is subject-verb-object. The sentence is produced with a neutral non-manual signal.

I DON’T-LIKE COFFEE
(“I don’t like coffee”)

M-A-R-Y LIVE NEAR LANSING
(“Mary lives near Lansing”)

Affirmative statement

An affirmative statement can be produced with a non-manual signal of a head nod. (If emphatic, the eyebrows may raise.)

nodEXPENSIVE
(“Yes, it was expensive”)

nodMY BIKE
(“Yes, that is my bike”)

Negated statement

A negated statement can be produced with a non-manual signal of a head shake. (If emphatic, the eyebrows may be squeezed together.)

negCOFFEE
(“No more coffee, please”)

negME ALLERGY
(“No, I don’t have allergies.”)

Yes/No question

Basic yes/no question

A yes/no question is produced with a non-manual signal of eyebrows rising slightly and a slight nod forward.

ynYOU DEAF
(“Are you Deaf?”)

ynCLASS FINISH
(“Is class over with?”)

Yes/No question with incorporated negation

A yes/no question can be produced in a way that implies the negative answer is “correct”. It is produced with the non-manual signals of head shaking as well as eyebrows up.

yn/negSOON YOU LEAVE
(“You’re not leaving anytime soon, are you?”)

yn/negYOU SHOW-UP LATE
(“You didn’t show up late, right?”)

Yes/No question with incorporated affirmation

A yes/no question can be produced in a way that implies the affirmative answer is “correct”. It is produced with the non-manual signals of head nodding as well as eyebrows up.

yn/nodYOU FINISH PAY RENT CORRECT
(“You already paid rent, right?”)

yn/nodYOU MUST LEAVE EARLY
(“You have to leave early, right?”)

Marked Yes/No question (with wiggle finger)

A yes/no question can be produced in a way that is “marked”—that is, the signer is dubious or surprised.

ynYOU BORN IN FRANCE WG
(“Really? You were born in France?”)

ynYOU FINISH TEETH BRUSH WG
(to child: “Did you actually brush your teeth?”)

Wh- word question

A wh- word question means a question that is seeking an answer. These questions usually (but not always) include signs such as WHAT, WHERE, HOW-MUCH, WHY, HOW-MANY, etc. They are produced with a non-manual signal of eyebrows squeezed together and a slight nod forward.

whWHERE YOU GROW-UP WHERE
(“Where did you grow up?”)

CAR whCOST++
(“How much did the car cost?”)

Topicalization (aka “topic-comment”)

Simple topicalization

The object of a sentence can be fronted in ASL by signing the object first with a corresponding non-manual signal of eyebrows raised. For the subject and verb of the sentence, the eyebrows return to a neutral location.

topicTHAT CONTAINER TEA I DRINK CL:5("deplete") FINISH
(“I drank that full container of tea.”)

topicSTARBUCKS COFFEE EVERY-FRIDAY DEAF COMMUNITY GO-TO
(“Every Friday, the deaf community goes to that Starbuck’s coffee location.”)

Relative clauses

A relative clause is a kind of topicalization. When a dependant clause is moved up, you produce the non-manual signal of eyebrows raised. For the rest of the sentence (the independent clause), the eyebrows return to a neutral location.

topicM-A-R-Y HER PARENTS DIVORCE I KNOW-THAT
(“I know that Mary’s parents are divorced.”)

topicT-R-U-M-P BECOME PRESIDENT MY SISTER DOESN’T-WANT
(“My sister doesn’t want Trump to become President.”)

Rhetorical construction (aka “rhetorical statement”)

In ASL, it is common to emphasize a specific concept by moving it to the end of the sentence and preceding it with a wh- word with a non-manual signal of eyebrows up.

ALL-DAY I rhDO-WHAT PASSIVE
(“I didn’t do anything all day.”)

TWO-YEARS-FUTURE DEAF E-X-P-O rhWHERE NEW-YORK
(“In two years the Deaf expo will be in New York!”)

Imperative (aka “command”)

Imperatives (commands) in ASL are signed with the non-manual signal of eyebrows squeezed together and a slight nod. Most of the time, the subject is omitted.

YOUR QUIZ PAPER commandTURN-OVER
(“Turn over your quiz papers.”)

commandGO-TO LIGHTSWITCH TURN-OFF
(“Go turn off the light.”)

Conditional statement (aka “If-then”)

Simple conditional

A conditional part of a sentence is signed with the non-manual signal of eyebrows up, with the dependent clause in neutral position. Often modal verbs will move to the end of a sentence

condIF RAIN (WE) CANCEL TOUR WILL
(“If it rains, we will cancel the tour.”)

condIF YOU COOK I CLEAN CAN
(“If you cook, I can clean.”)

Conditional statement with a yes/no question

The conditional part of the sentence is signed with eyebrows up, the yes/no question is signed with eyebrows up and a slight nod forward.

condIF I BUY DINNER YOU LEAVE TIP
(“If I buy dinner, will you leave a tip?”)

condIF DOG DIE GO-TO HEAVEN
(“Do dogs go to heaven if they die?”)

Conditional statement with a wh-word question

The conditional part of the sentence is signed with eyebrows up, the wh- word question is signed with eyebrows squeezed together and a slight nod forward.

condIF YOU THAT WOMAN SWITCHED-PLACE HOW YOU FEEL
(“If you were in her shoes, how would you feel?”)

condIF WE SPLIT HOTEL COST HOW-MUCH
(“If we share the hotel room, how much would it cost?”)

Conditional statement with an affirmative statement

The conditional part of the sentence is signed with eyebrows up, the affirmative statement is signed a head nod.

condIF RAIN GO-TO CLASS
(“If it rains, I will go to class”)

condIF MY EX BOYFRIEND SHOW-UP I LEAVE
(“If my ex-boyfriend show up, I will leave.”)

Conditional statement with a negated statement

The conditional part of the sentence is signed with eyebrows up, the negated statement is signed with a head shake.

condIF RAIN GO-TO CLASS
(“If it rains, I won’t go to class.”)

condIF YOU INVITE MY EX BOYFRIEND GO-TO
(“If you invite my ex-boyfriend, I won’t go.”)

Conditional statement with an imperative

The conditional part of the sentence is signed with eyebrows up, the imperative is signed with eyebrows together and a slight nod.

condIF YOU UNCERTAIN NOT-UNDERSTAND RAISE-HAND
(“If you are uncertain or don’t understand, raise your hand.”)

condIF TEST FINISH TURN-OVER-PAPER
(“If you are done with your test, turn it over.”)