American Sign Language/Basic Grammar 1

Basic Grammar 1Edit

The Basic Grammar StructureEdit

Like all languages, American Sign Language (ASL) has a well-defined sentence structure. Similar to English sentences, basic verb clauses in ASL are in Subject-Verb-Object order. ASL has more flexible word order, though, because it also uses topics and usually drops pronouns that have been established as topics. A full sentence in ASL has the following order:

[time-context] [topic] [subject] [negative-tag-start] verb [object] [subject-pronoun-tag] [negative-tag-end]
Time context
In ASL, the time context (e.g. morning, yesterday) is optional. If expressed, it occurs at the beginning of the sentence and functions like an adverb for the verb of the main clause that follows.
The topic is also optional. When expressed, it is usually indicated by raised eyebrows. The topic is then typically not expressed again in the following sentences, except for emphasis, or to change the topic, or where confusion may otherwise occur.
If the established topic is the subject of the sentence, the subject is typically dropped (not expressed), except for emphasis or where confusion may occur.
Verbs in ASL may express actions (e.g. "to talk") or states (e.g. "to be happy"). Aside from the optional time context, ASL grammar does not have tense. That is, it does not change the form of a sign to indicate past, present, and future actions or states. Verb signs in ASL do inflect, though. For example, they may be signed emphatically by using larger gestures than their standard forms, or repeated to show repeated actions, or interrupted before the end to indicate the "unrealized inceptive" mood (also indicated by holding one's breath).
If the established topic is the object of the sentence, the object is typically dropped, except for emphasis or where confusion may occur.
Subject pronoun tag
Subject pronoun tags are optional. If expressed, it refers to the subject of the verb and may suggest emphasis. In a positive sentence, the subject pronoun tag is usually indicated with a head nod.
Negatives usually are indicated by shaking the head "no" from the beginning of the verb through the end of the sentence, and are optionally also expressed with an explicit negative sign after the verb and its optional object.


SCHOOL ME GO [topic] [subject] [verb]

EVERYDAY SCHOOL ME GO-GO-GO [time-adverb] [topic] [subject] [verb] I attend school everyday

Time phrases are put in front.


Last modified on 11 September 2011, at 21:02