Negation in Sign Language

Negation used in a sentence indicates a negative sentence. The essence of negation indicates something like it does not happen, will not happen, has not happened, did not happen, is/was/are/were not true, not one's fault and such.

Like spoken languages, negation is found in every signed language. In ASL (American Sign Language), there are a few different ways of forming a negative sentence: not, negative verbs, and negative marker.

ASL (glossed as): IX-pronoun NOT HAPPY. English: She/he is not happy. This phrase comes with stress - shaking head when signing NOT HAPPY.

Negative Verbs

A few verbs have their inversed verbs (negative incorporation), such as WANT-NOT, LIKE-NOT, and KNOW-NOT. Note that the term "not" is not signed in these single words. Below are some of the examples.

want not want

[L] It is a regular positive verb want in ASL. [R] It is a negative verb, in which the direction of the verb want is almost the opposite.

not know

[L] This is a regular verb know in ASL. [R] This is an inversed (or negative) verb know-not.

Negative Marker

The negative marker is used to negate a basic sentence. It may be used as alone in a negative sentence or it may be used with other forms of negation. Below are some or all of the characteristics of the negative marker:

  • side to side headshake
  • frown expression (eyebrows squeezed, sometimes nose wrinkled)
  • pursed lips, or loose lips


    This is the ASL word impossible along with the negative marker. It can also mean "can't be!", "no way!", "impossible!"

    The negative marker can be used with some other words, such as "doubt", "refuse", and sometimes "risk".


    The use of ASL word not is used in a negative sentence along with the negative marker.

    have not

    Meaning: "don't have any", "don't own (something)"

    Other NOT-types: none, never

    Below are some more examples of other not-words along with the negative marker.

    feel none

    feel-none or feel-nothing
    Meaning: "can't feel anything", "not notice or realize something"

    never hear

    ASL word: never-hear
    Possible meanings: "haven't heard anything about it", "it was never known", "not commonly known", "no such thing as"


    ASL word: none or nothing
    Meaning: "none", "nothing", "not available"

    not yet

    This Ameslan/ASL word not-yet is a single word in ASL, despite the two-word in English.
    Meaning: "not yet", "hasn't happened yet", "not ready yet"

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