Numbers and Counting in ASL

Numbers are an essential part of American Sign Language (ASL), which is the primary language used by the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the United States. ASL uses handshapes, facial expressions, and body movements to convey information, including numbers.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about numbers and counting in ASL, including the different handshapes used, how to sign cardinal and ordinal numbers, and common errors to avoid. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of how to sign and count in ASL.

How to Count to 20 in Sign Language 

Handshapes Used in ASL Numbers

ASL numbers use ten different handshapes, which are similar to the numbers they represent. For example, the handshape used for number one is the index finger, while the handshape used for number three is three fingers extended.

The ten handshapes used in ASL numbers are:

  1. Index finger
  2. Index and middle fingers
  3. Index, middle, and ring fingers
  4. Index and ring fingers
  5. Thumb and pinky finger
  6. Index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers
  7. Index and pinky fingers
  8. Middle and thumb fingers
  9. Index, middle, and thumb fingers
  10. Thumb, index, and middle fingers

Each of these handshapes represents a different number, and you’ll need to master them to count in ASL.

signs for the numbers 0 to 20:

NumberASL Sign Description
0Hold your dominant hand with all fingers and thumb extended, then touch the tips of your thumb and index finger together
1Hold your dominant hand with your index finger extended, then touch the tip of your index finger to your thumb
2Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your thumb
3Hold your dominant hand with your index, middle, and ring fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index, middle, and ring fingers to your thumb
4Hold your dominant hand with your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers to your thumb
5Hold your dominant hand with all fingers and thumb extended, then close your fingers to touch your palm
6Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then tuck your thumb between your index and middle fingers
7Hold your dominant hand with your index, middle, and ring fingers extended, then tuck your thumb between your index and middle fingers
8Hold your dominant hand with your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers extended, then tuck your thumb between your index and middle fingers
9Hold your dominant hand with your index and pinky fingers extended, then tuck your thumb between your index and middle fingers
10Hold your dominant hand with your thumb extended and your fingers closed, then touch your thumb to your chin
11Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your forehead
12Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your temple
13Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your cheek
14Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your ear
15Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your shoulder
16Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your chest
17Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your stomach
18Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your hip
19Hold your dominant hand with your index and middle fingers extended, then touch the tips of your index and middle fingers to your thigh
20Hold your dominant hand with your thumb and index finger extended, then touch the tips of your thumb and index finger together

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Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers in ASL

Like spoken languages, ASL has two types of numbers: cardinal and ordinal. Cardinal numbers are used to count objects or people, while ordinal numbers are used to indicate the order of things or events.

Watch the free instructional videos on SignLanguage101. They offer great online courses for those who want a more structured way to learn ASL.

To sign cardinal numbers in ASL, you’ll need to use the appropriate handshape for each number and show the number of items you’re counting. For example, to sign the number three, you’ll use the handshape for three and show three fingers extended. To sign the number ten, you’ll use the handshape for ten and make a fist.

Ordinal numbers, on the other hand, use a different handshape, the “flat hand.” To sign the first, you’ll use a flat hand and tap your chest. For the second, you’ll use the flat hand and tap your chin. For the third, you’ll use a flat hand and tap your forehead.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When signing numbers in ASL, there are a few common mistakes to avoid. One of the most common mistakes is confusing the handshapes for six and nine, which look very similar. To sign six, you’ll use the handshape for six with your thumb tucked in, while to sign nine, you’ll use the handshape for nine with your thumb extended.

Another common mistake is using the wrong handshape for a number, such as using the handshape for five instead of the handshape for three. It’s essential to practice each handshape until you can sign each number fluently.

Finally, it’s essential to be clear and precise when signing numbers in ASL. Make sure to show the appropriate handshape and the correct number of fingers for each number, and take your time to ensure that you’re signing each number correctly.

Learn how to sign ABC’s