Numbers 1-10 /
100-900 / 1000
and up /
Below you will find a collection of various information
regarding signing numbers in ASL.
To see examples of the number signs, visit the links above.
Numbers 1-5 Discussion:
Some teachers make a big deal over the palm orientation of the numbers
1-5. I don't because in truth those numbers are done both ways by advanced signers.
This really isn't a big deal, but some people try to make it one. If
you have a teacher or friend who "cares" then sign it "their way" when you
are around them.
I tend to sign numbers 1-5 "palm
back." Which is to say, the palm of my hand is facing me.
About 20 percent of the time I do numbers 1-5 "palm
are indeed some definable rules for when to do the numbers 1-5 palm forward
or palm back. For example, if you are holding your hand away from your
body for emphasis (sort of signing in the other person's face) you will do
the number palm forward. That is the same for the days of the week,
which are typically signed palm back, (by advanced signers) but are
occasionally signed palm forward for emphasis. I once watched Randal King,
an excellent native signing friend of mine, give an example of this.
He roleplayed (kidding around) an "arrogant" individual and signed a phrase involving wanting an employee to finish
a report and turn it in --that
ended with the phrase "and I want it on Monday!!!" The last two signs
in his sentence were, WANT MONDAY!!! As Randal signed Monday, he
extended his arm outward toward the person he was signing to and did the
sign palm forward using a strong motion and strong facial
Anyway, as a general rule do 1-5 palm back, but don't stress over it
Daniel: Do I read the pictures right? Is the sign for "2" and
the sign for "V" the same?
DrVicars: Yes, 2 and "V" are the same. In normal conversation
though, it is never a problem. For example, my name:
"Vicars," you wouldn't misunderstand that as "2icars."
Context generally makes it clear. In some situations it might be more
Suppose you were fingerspelling your screen name to someone and it had some
numbers mixed in with the letters. One of the ways to deal with that is to
use mouthing. Some Deaf will mouth the number while signing it. Others (the
ones who don't like mouthing words or numbers) will vibrate the number back
and forth slightly to establish that it is a number and not a letter. Yet
another way to deal with "look-alikes" is to sign the letter palm
forward and the number palm back. I think when you have mixed numbers and
letters, the best way to deal with it is to do the numbers with your palm
facing backward and the letters forward.
Sharp: I found it difficult to sign the letter F am I trying to
straighten the fingers too much?
DrVicars: I only straighten the pinkie and ring fingers when doing
an "F" or "9." I let the middle
bend half-way. Does that help?
Advanced number discussion:
DrVicars: When you sign numbers, you do them quite similar to the way you
say them in English. For example: If you are signing "1997," you sign
"19" then "97." If you do a phone number, just do it as you would say it. I leave a small pause where the
hyphen would be so the watcher can write the first part (if they are writing it down), before I do
the second part. The jury is still out on years like 2000 and up.
Most people seem to be doing the individual numbers while sliding the hand
slightly to the right. For example showing a two-zero-zero-zero for
the year 2000. So THAT is the way I recommend you sign the years
2000-2009. (BUT I have time and time again observed native Deaf ASL signers
using the "thousand" sign as part of the sign for years 2000 and up.)
Crazy: I don't understand how to do # 16 and on. Do I move my right or my
left hand. That's my only trouble.
DrVicars: Numbers change from region to region so check with your local
deaf person. The number 16 - 19 can be done a couple different ways. You use your right hand
if you are right handed.
Crazy: Do I move my right towards my left?
DrVicars: No. Let me go over 16 and up. There are generally two ways to
do these numbers.
To sign "16" you can make a ten and then a six. Or you can take
the number six, starting palm backward, twist it forward twice in a small quick motion, ending with the
palm mostly outward (toward the watcher).
It is the same with 17 - 19. (For 17 you would "twist" the number
7. Eighteen would use an 8, and nineteen would use a "9.") Is that clear or do you need more
Tigie: ok thanks
Lii: How do I sign the 20's? I seem to have trouble with those numbers.
DrVicars: Again we have at least two ways. The simplest is to do the
number "2" then the next
number. For example, "25" would be done by showing a "2"
then showing a "5." A somewhat
more popular method seems to be to sign the letter "L" then the
second digit. The "L" indicating
that you are in the "20's" and the second digit indicating which
particular number of the twenties.
For example: You can sign "21" by showing an "L" and
then a "1." The number 20 looks like
the letter g with the index and thumb closing together a couple times.
Most people tend to bounce the number "2" twice to represent
the concept of 22.
[bend the hand down and up at the wrist, first pointing slightly to the left
and then again pointing
somewhat to the right.] The numbers 23 and 25 can have a fluttering motion.
"23" looks like
the number 3 with the middle finger fluttering up and down a few times.
"25" looks like the
number 5 with the middle finger fluttering up and down a few times.
Crazy: So only one hand is use for those numbers we just discussed?
DrVicars: Yes, that is correct.
Crazy: No wonder I was confused, I was thinking it was 2 hands!
Art: What does "L" have to do with it?
DrVicars: "L" has nothing to do with it. That is just the way
deaf people do it. Try to not think
of it as an "L" but rather think of it as a digit that in context
represents "the twenties." Why do
you say dog instead of woof because that is the way it ended up in the
language. We (I) get
spoiled in ASL because so many things are iconic. Who knows what iconic
Lii: I don't.
KC: Looks like what it is?
DrVicars: Right KC. The sign for cat visually represents a cat's
whiskers. In computer terms, an icon is an image on the screen that
represents a certain command. For example, a little picture of a trash can
might represent the command for the computer to "throw away" or
erase a file, but in general an icon is a symbol or image that represents
something. I'm using it here to mean "visually representational."
But you need to remember that not all signs are iconic. ASL, like any true
language, is symbolic and at times arbitrary. Signs mean what they do
because the people who use them say so, and that is the bottom line.
Aimie: It actually makes things easier to remember that way. [iconically]
DrVicars: Oh sure, we are "lucky" there are so many signs that
look like what they represent.
Aimie: Like for meat you grab the flesh of your hand!
WVicars1: How about the number 100? What is the handshape?
Student: The letter C.
WVicars1: Right! One bit of advice though--over time the signs mutate and
might not look like a C it might look like a crooked finger or the 1000
might look like a bent B
WVicars1: Why do we use the "C"
for a hundred, or an "M" for the number thousand? [Note: One of the ways to sign the number 1,000 is to make an "M" on the right hand, then touch the fingertips of the "M" to the center of the left "B" palm.]
Kloos: Same as Roman numerals
WVicars1: Right! Back in the "old days" it started out as an "M" but it has mutated to a bent
hand. Some people still do the letter M.
Also, the Roman numeral analogy only goes so far--the roman numeral L
doesn't represent the number 50 in ASL. You just do a "5" and a "0."
Kloos: How high should we be able to sign on the numbers?
DrVicars: infinity <grin> No really, just to the thousands, for
this class. To do the larger
numbers, you just string them together. For example, to sign 104 you can do
"1-0-4." (I tend to do the 1-0-4 version) To do 111 you sign "1-C-11" and so forth up to
1000. Then you do 1-THOUSAND
(bent right "b" palm fingertips touch center of left flat
Numbering for Lefties:
For lefties: Most numbers are either signed without sideward movement or with only a very slight movement further to the
left. (Again, I'm discussing how left handed people do numbers. I know someone is going to "miss that" and run around
saying that Dr. V said such and such. Wake up.)
For example: The number "57" is commonly held in place as it changes from a "5" into a "7." For lefties it would also be
okay to use a very small leftward movement as you change from a 5 to a 7--but why waste energy?
For Lefties: Double numbers: 22, 33, 44, 55, ... start palm forward and a bit downward (45% angle), slap downward, come
up and move to the left in a small arc (toward the outside) and slap downward again.
Numbering for Lefties:
Numbers 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29:
Start with an "L" handshape and move slightly to the left (or simply "do in place" without moving to the left) and then do the
next digit. For example, "24" would look like "L4"
Notes: The number 21 tends to move the thumb twice, for example "L1L1" and/or hold it pointing somewhat forward at an angle
as if shooting a gun (the thumb looking somewhat like the hammer of a pistol coming down twice). It is also common to instead
move the index finger as if "pulling a trigger" twice.
The number 23 uses a palm-forward "3 handshape" and wiggles the middle finger downward a couple times.
The number 25 uses a palm-forward "5 handshape" and wiggles the middle finger downward a couple times.
For Lefties: Number 67: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 7
For Lefties: Number 68: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the right as it changes to an 8
For Lefties: Number 69: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 9
For Lefties: Number 76: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 6
For Lefties: Number 78: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the right as it changes to an 8
For Lefties: Number 79: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 9
For Lefties: Number 86: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 6
For Lefties: Number 87: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 7
For Lefties: Number 89: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 9
For Lefties: Number 96: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 6
For Lefties: Number 97: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 7
For Lefties: Number 98: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the left as it changes to an 8
For Righties: Number 67: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 7
For Righties: Number 68: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the left as it changes to an 8
For Righties: Number 69: Starts with a 6 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 9
For Righties: Number 76: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 6
For Righties: Number 78: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the left as it changes to an 8
For Righties: Number 79: Starts with a 7 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 9
For Righties: Number 86: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 6
For Righties: Number 87: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 7
For Righties: Number 89: Starts with a 8 and rolls to the left as it changes to a 9
For Righties: Number 96: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 6
For Righties: Number 97: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the right as it changes to a 7
For Righties: Number 98: Starts with a 9 and rolls to the right as it changes to an 8