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How to Ask Questions in American Sign Language

When you want to ask a question in American Sign Language (ASL), you simply sign the question word at the end of the sentence — words such as who, what, when, where, which, why, and how.

After you sign your question, as a rule, you sign the manual question mark repeatedly.

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You also have the option of placing the question mark at the beginning of the sentence.

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As you sign the question word, lean forward a little, look inquisitive, scrunch your eyebrows together, and tilt your head to one side. Your dominant hand — the one that you write with — does the action.

You sign these inquiry words at the beginning or at the end of a sentence:

  • Who? With your dominatn hand, place your thumb on your chin and let your index finger wiggle from the joint. The other three fingers curl under.

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  • What? Put your hands outward in front of you, with elbows bent and palms up. Shake your hands back and forth towards each other.

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  • Where? Hold up the index finger of your dominant hand, like you're indicating "one," then shake it side to side.

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  • When? Put both of your index fingers together at a 90-degree angle at the tips. Your dominant index finger then makes a full circle around the passive index finger and returns to the starting position.

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  • Which? Make both hands into fists with your thumbs pointing up; alternate each fist in an up-and-down movement.

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  • Why? Touch the side of your forehead with the fingers of your dominant hand, extend your thumb and pinky (in the Y sign) while you bring your hand down, middle three fingers in, to chest level.

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  • How? With fingers pointing downward and backs of fingers and knuckles touching, roll hands inward to your chest and up so that the pinky sides of your hands are touching.

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Check out the following examples of short questions:

  • English: Who is going?

    Sign: GOING WHO Q

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  • English: What do you mean?

    Sign: MEAN WHAT Q (The word “you” is implied because you’re talking to that person already.)

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