Pluralization in sign language

Pluralization is a process of making a plural of a signed word. In English, a speaker adds "s" to a noun word for plural. The word cat is a singular and cats is a plural.

In sign language, there are different ways of expressing plurals: regular ASL words, handshape, movement, numeral incorporation, and reduplication. A signed word can be modified by a handshape, a movement, a direction, and/or a repetition to signify a degree of plural.

It is important to remember that these parameters are not necessarily applicable to all signed words. Some may work, some will not suit well. In English, fish is also a plural, not "fishes". There are rules and exceptions in every language.

ASL words

One of the ways of pluralization is the regular words in ASL, such as several, many, lots, few, etc. The singular word many can even become a plural in ASL. Eg. many, many (see duplication for explanation).


The ASL pronouns SHE, HE, IT, and YOU are singular. For illustration, the video above is YOU.

On the other hand, the signer sweeps across the space for YOU, which is plural, meaning "all of you" or "you" in the plural form.

A classifier and its movement parameter

There are seveal ways of showing a plural. We will use "book" to illustrate a few examples.

The "book" sign is a noun.

After signing the book now as a referent, the classifier shows a stack of books.

Another, the classifier that represents the referent (book) moves from the left to the right. This movement is a form of pluralization. It signifies a set of books on the shelf.

Further, you can pluralize the shelf too! The signer in the video shows a plural for both books and shelves. The mouth morpheme "CS" indicates "lots, lots."

Numeral incorporation

In numeral incorporation, a ASL number is incorporated with a signed word. Not all words can be incorporated with numbers. Here are a few examples below.


It is a regular ASL word for day.

Rather than signing two ASL words seven and day separately, numeral incorporation is used in one inflected ASL word seven-day for "seven days".

classifier classifier

Some classifiers can be pluralized. For example, [L] the upright 1-handshape classifier can represent a standing person, pen, stick or another. By changing this handshape to "2" or "V", this classifier then can represent two persons, two sticks (horizontal orientation), and so on.


Reduplication is another way of pluralization. A sign (which may be a classifier, a verb, or combiend) is repeated.

For example, inflecting or modulating a regular verb (video above) FLY-plane, the signer uses both hands alternating few times, which means, (video below) fly frequently, fly many times, or several busy flights.

Another example for FIND, the regular verb is FIND as shown in the image below. Based on the (L) regular sign-word find, the signer reduplicates it, which becomes a plural (R).

Inflecting or modulating this regular sign-word [L] find, the signer uses both hands alternating few times, which now means [R] find out more and more or discover many things.

These examples are only a scratch of an enormous core of plural possibilities in ASL. The best way is to learn from and interact with Deaf signers native to ASL.

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