Sentence structure in Sign Language

Sentences comes in a variety of shapes and lengths. There are generally four types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

Basic sentence structure

Sentence structure is how all the parts of a sentence fit together. A sentence generally requires at least a subject and a verb, sometimes except for a command. A verb is an action and a subject is the noun that does the action. Some sentences can add objects.

Beyond the word order a sentence, there are four major sentence structure types.

Simple sentences

A simple sentence contains just one independent clause, which is a group of words that has both a subject phrase and a verb phrase as well as an object.

ASL sentence example in glosses: ix-me kiss-fist reading books. English version: I love reading books.

Compound sentences

A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses. These clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction which is a word that glues clauses together.

ASL sentence example in glosses: ix-me kiss-fist read++ books, /\also/\ ix-me fast read++.

The gloss /\ALSO/\, where the symbol /\ represents raising eyebrows, is a coordinating conjunction. There are two independent clauses before and after the conjunction in this compound sentence.

Complex sentences

A complex contains an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. A dependent or subordinate clause does not express a complete thought; it must be attached to its independent clause to become complete.

ASL sentence example in glosses: ix-me fast read++ /\WHY-rh/\ ix-me grow-up bilingual English | ASL.

In ASL, dependent clauses can refer to the conjunctions (e.g. IF or #IF, BUT or #BUT, etc.) and wh-words in rhetorial questions (e.g. HOW/\, WHY/\, etc.).

Conditional sentence: /\IF IX1 NOT SHOW-UP/\, PARTY CANCEL.

Compound-complex sentences

Compound-complex sentences contain a combination of two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

ASL sentence example in glosses: ix-me fast read++ /\WHY-rh/\ ix-me grow-up bilingual English | ASL /\PLUS ALSO/\ ix-me full-deaf! knack-for eye-receptive, visual-peripheral.

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