The sign for "time" in ASL points to the wrist at the
location where people used to wear watches, (before cell phones). Just tap
your wrist twice. If you want to know "What time is it?" then do this
same sign but with furrowed eyebrows.
What time do you go to ASL class?
STUDENT: "How would u sign " on time"? would u sign "on"
and then "time?"
You do not use the sign ON for the concept of "on time."
Instead, you should do a modified version of TIME by starting the movement from
inches above the wrist, coming down quickly, touching the wrist without
stopping and then moving back up 5 inches. The whole movement is very
quick. Think of a scorpion stinging.
This sign could be used to mean "punctual" or 7 p.m. "sharp!"
Incorporation of number in time: example: "1
a.m. and p.m. You can indicate "a.m." by signing "morning," or "p.m." by signing
The general concept here is that you have a timeline that
runs from behind you to in front of you. By doing a sign farther back
you can indicate the concept occurred further in the past. The farther
forward things are signed, the further in the future they are. Doing a
sign close to your body can be used to indicate the nearness or recentness
of an event.
Dealing with time:
In English a person might say, "I went to a movie
last Saturday." Or, maybe "Last Saturday I went to a movie." Notice
how the concept of "go" is expressed as "went?" This is called
"conjugating" the verb to show tense. (Conjugate is just a big word
that means "change" or "join.") Another word for conjugate is
In ASL that sentence would be signed "PAST SATURDAY ME-(PRO1) GO MOVIE."
(The "PRO1" means a first person pronoun, which is done by simply pointing
at yourself with an index finger.) We use the same form of the concept "GO"
for both present and past tense sentences. That is the way it is with
most ASL sentences. We establish the "tense" or time-frame of a
sentence by using certain "time signs" like "past week," "next month," "now
morning," or "next year," and then the rest of the sentence uses typical
non-conjugated signs. This technique works for whole paragraphs and/or
conversations. Tense only needs to be established once at the
beginning of an ASL conversation. All of the remaining signs use the
same form regardless whether you are talking about the past, present, or
future. For example, in the sentence, "TOMORROW ME-(PRO1) GO MOVIE" uses the
same sign for "GO" as the sentence, "YESTERDAY ME GO MOVIE."
Now note, that the interpretation of "NOW AFTERNOON
ME-(PRO1) GO MOVIE" depends on what time of day it is. If it is
morning, then the sentence would be the equivalent of, "This afternoon I
will go to a movie." If it is currently night time, the sentence would
be interpreted as, "Today I went to a movie." The ASL signs are the
same, but their meaning depends on what time of day the sentence is being
Dear Dr. Bill,
I have a question concerning time. Is the sign the same if you were saying
"every time" or "the last time"?
Depending on the circumstance, "every time" might be signed " EACH TIME,
ALWAYS, ALL TIME, PERIOD, NO-MATTER, etc.
How you sign "the last time," depends on whether you mean "final/concluding"
or "the most recent time." If you mean "the last time" as in "This is the
last time we will visit this restaurant" you would use the version of the
sign "LAST" that strikes the pinkie of the non-dominant hand with the pinkie
of the dominant hand. If you mean, "The last time I visited this restaurant
was five years ago," you would use a combination of signs including
"PAST/previously" and the sign "SINCE/up to now" combined with appropriate
facial grammar (slight negative head shake to indicate "haven't"). I TOUCH
HERE 5-YEAR-AGO, SINCE NONE.
Thus, the traditional sign "TIME" might not even show up in the sentence.