An Introduction to ASL Grammar Rules
  • 2-minute read
  • 5th October 2022

An Introduction to ASL Grammar Rules

American Sign Language (ASL), like standard spoken and written English, is a subject-verb-object (SVO) language. But because ASL uses hand signs, facial expressions, and body movements to show meaning and add emphasis, this structure can change, and the word order can change depending on the intention of the sentence and how familiar the audience is with the topic. You can change the syntax with a shrug, a frown, a smile, a nod, or a turn to the left or right.

For example, ASL must be short and direct, leaving out some spoken grammatical elements, including copular verbs like “be.” These are an unnecessary luxury when all expression must be simple and straightforward. We might say:

“My cat is black.”

Using ASL, we’d say:

“My cat black.”

ASL often introduces the topic at the start of a sentence. This can mean changing the word order from adjective-noun to noun-adjective. In standard spoken English, we might say:

“I have a black cat.”

Using ASL, we’d say:

“Cat black I have.”

Or introducing a topic may require the verb to come before the subject. In standard English, we’d say:

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“I like to swim.”

In ASL, it’s fine to say:

“Swim, I like.”

When we introduce time into the discussion, it’s brought to the forefront in ASL, resulting in a time-subject-verb-object structure, whereas in spoken or written English, we’d usually leave time until the end of a sentence:

“I fed my cat at 8:30 a.m.”

Using ASL, we’d say:

“8:30 a.m. I fed my cat.”

All these differences and variations allow people who use ASL to understand conversations from the start and communicate effectively by painting pictures with signs.

If you’re looking for help correcting your written grammar, try out a sample of our proofreading and editing services for free.

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