Indicating Verbs in Sign Language

Indicating verbs in ASL are modulated verbs by inflecting the direction or movement of the regular ASL verbs to indicate the subject and the object in a sentence.

The following verbs are some examples that can be modulated to contain the information about the subject and the object.

ask, borrow-from/loan-to, copy, deceive, give, help, inform, ignore, look-at, show, scold, send, summon, tease, pay, tell, ...

For example, the indicating verb you-give-hir is a single sign in a ASL sentence [t]book[t] you-give-hir. The English translation is as follows: You give him/her the book.

If you change the movement in the opposite direction as above, the subject and the object are changed. That is, "S/he gives you the book."

Beware of some potentially confusing indicating verbs. For example, borrow-from vs loan-to.

See the ASL word borrow (two-handed, "2" handshapes, moving toward the signer) and loan (two-handed, "2" handshapes, moving away from the signer) in the ASL dictionary for your reference.

In this case, the indicating verb from "s/he" toward "you" means that she/he loans you or you borrow him/her.

Reciprocal verbs

Reciprocal verbs are another form of indicating verb which shows reciprocating or simultaneous action of the subject and the object.

Examples: look-at-each-other, inform-each-other, challenge-each-other, conflict-with, hate-each-other, quarrel-with ...

Locative verbs

Locative verbs are another form of indicating verb which shows direction or location. The location or direction of a locative verb has its meaning.

The ASL verb throw-loc, for example, shows the specific direction in which the object is thrown. The object could be thrown away from ther signer, toward the signer, over the signer's shoulder, etc.


Clayton Valli, et al. "Linguistics of American Sign Language: An Introduction." Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. 2005. Pp 76-82.

Charlotte Haker-Shenk and Dennis Cokely. "American Sign Language: A Teacher's Resource Text on Grammar and Culture." Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet Press. 1980.

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