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ASL: How to Sign Numbers

By Adan R. Penilla, II, Angela Lee Taylor

How to sign cardinal (counting) and ordinal (ordering) numbers will get you through everyday situations. When you want to specify that there’s more than one item — plural — you sign the item first, followed by the quantity. Unlike English, you don’t have to change the item to a plural by adding “s.” You need to show what the item is before you can tell someone how many.

Signing cardinal numbers

Being able to give numerical information in ASL opens many doors. You can give someone your phone number, make an appointment, and warn a potential guest that you have 12, yes 12, cats.

When you’re indicating quantity and counting things, sign the numbers 1 through 5 and 11 through 15 with your palm facing you, and the numbers 6 through 10 and 16 through 19 with your palm facing the person to whom you’re signing.

Just like in English, there are exceptions to every rule, especially the one about which way your palm faces. To tell time in Sign, let your dominant (active) index finger touch your other wrist — where you would wear a watch. Then use your dominant hand to sign the appropriate hour (number) with your palm facing the person you’re signing to; the same goes for addresses and phone numbers. For quantity, though, the numbers 1 through 5 have your palm facing you; 6 through 10 have your palm facing the addressee.

This table gives you numbers 1 through 19 (and 0).


To sign decade numbers — 30, 40, 50, and so on — you sign the first number (3, 4, 5) followed by the Sign for the number 0 (zero). You sign “hundreds,” such as 600, 700, 800, and so on, by first signing the number (6, 7, 8), then the sign for “hundred.”





Ordering ordinal numbers in Sign language

Ordinal numbers show orderly placement: first cup of coffee, second chapter, and third base, for example. To indicate an ordinal number in ASL, twist your wrist inward while signing the respective number.