A in sign language

This word entry covers the signs for the alphabetical letter A, the articles (e.g. a, an), the letter A used in baby signing, a vocabulary booster activity, and related links.

"A" doodle art, 2008 by Jolanta Lapiak.

What is the letter P in sign language? Just as there are different sign languages, there are different manual alphabets around the world. Here shows you how to sign the letter "A" in the American manual alphabet used in the United States and Canada.

Letter A in American Sign Language

How do you say the letter "A" in the ASL alphabet?

Meaning: The first letter of the English alphabet, a vowel.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant fist-like handshape with the thumb on the side of the hand. Or, you know the thumb-up -- push the thumb to close the gap. The palm orientation of the horizontal hand faces outward.

Tip for beginners: Not to be confused with the letter "S". For the letter A, the thumb should be on the side, not on the closed fingers.

"A" and "an" determiners

Is there an ASL sign for the article "a" as in "a deaf person" or "an" as in "an American Deaf person"?

No and yes. No, there is no word-for-word equivalent for the English determiners or articles. Yes, ASL has its own grammar and a system of determiners, just like other languages have their own rules. Explore several determiners in ASL.

Letter A in baby signing

English has about 40-44 sound phonemes in spoken language with its 26 alphabetical letters for its writing version. ASL has over 50 handshape primes and a number of handshape digits in ASL writing.

To start with clearing up misconceptions that hearing people have about sign language, there is no such as 'baby sign language' (cultural appropriation) as much ludicrous as "baby speech language". In short, manually speaking for babies is no easier than vocally speaking.

While ASL has over 50 handshape primes, generally seven of them are unmarked handshapes which use all fingers, such as 5, B, O, A, S, C, and index finger or simply as "1". In natural language acquisition, ASL-speaking baby acquires unmarked handshapes first before developing the rest of other marked handshapes.

In my case study of baby "Juli", the "A" handshape emerged at about 12 months old and it's the second or third unmarked handshape that emerged after the other first unmarked handshapes "5" and "1"*.

During the beginning of this one-word stage of language acquisition, the baby used the "A" handshape in her newly learned signs or words such as BATH, DRIVE(car), WORK, etc. For the ASL word "work" which was Juli's one of the first, earliest words, she first formed the "5" handshape then transitioned it into the "A" handshape in WORK.

In fingerspelling, the A handshape is easy to form for baby. But, when fingerspelling individual letters "MAMA", the handshape M is very difficult and won't emerge much later. In contrast, it's very easy for baby vocally speaking MAMA as early as 6 months.

* In a sense of synesthesia, the handshape "5" in signing is an analogue to the "aah" in speech. Interesting, I observed that the handshape "1" before 12 months is used mostly in gestural pointing which first emerged at about 8-9 months but not in ASL words until 12 months during the one-word stage. Unsurprisingly, as other evidence has shown, manual gesture and signed word process differently in the brain.

Vocabulary Booster Game

Level: mid-beginner with a vocabulary corpus of over 50 or so ASL words.

Keep in mind that this vocabulary booster activity has nothing to do with the English alphabetical letter "A". It has to do with the sign language handshape that resembles the letter A.

Ok, let's boost up your vocabulary and brain exercise. Can you think of as many ASL signs that begin with the dominant-handed handshape "10" (open thumb) as possible? The "10" handshape (open thumb) is more common than the handshape "A" (closed thumb).

Q: "Can I count ASL signs with the "10" handshape on the passive hand? How about the two-handed signed words that have two different handshapes?"

A: Only the ASL words with the "10" handshape on the dominant hand regardless of one-handed or two-handed signs.

To get started for a warm-up, here is a couple of examples: NOT, HIDE.

Possible answers


A in other manual alphabets

British Sign Language (BSL), the distinct language of deaf people in the U.K., is different from American Sign Language (ASL). So are their distinct manual alphabets. The British alphabet is a two-handed system.

A in BSL (British Sign Language
A in BSL (British Sign Language

Sign description: Dominant forefinger points to the palm-up non-dominant "5" handshape. It represents the letter A. The next fingers of the non-dominant hand represents E, I, O, and U respectively.

ASL and LSF (French Sign Language) share basically the same manual alphabet, yet the languages are very different, even though ASL is the descendant of Old LSF.

Related words

Next letter: B.


Look at this ASL alphabet chart if you just want to learn all the letters at once.

Written ASL

[Note: ASL writing is not an official standard. This sign language writing remains in a state of open space to allow room for experiment, evolution, and improvement.]

How to write ASL for letter A

Written ASL digit for the alphabetical letter A. [Contributed by ASLwrite, 2019]

Feeling lucky? Random word

Basic word starters: hello / learn / ASL / sign language / alphabet / love / I love you / please / thank you / welcome...

Search Tips and Pointers

Search/Filter: Enter a keyword in the filter/search box to see a list of available words with the "All" selection. Click on the page number if needed. Click on the blue link to look up the word. For best result, enter a partial word to see variations of the word.

Screenshot of dictionary search with notes
Screenshot of the search dictionary

Alphabetical letters: It's useful for 1) a single-letter word (such as A, B, etc.) and 2) very short words (e.g. "to", "he", etc.) to narrow down the words and pages in the list.

For best result, enter a short word in the search box, then select the alphetical letter (and page number if needed), and click on the blue link.

Screenshot of dictionary search with notes
Screenshot of the search dictionary

Don't forget to click "All" back when you search another word with a different initial letter.

If you cannot find (perhaps overlook) a word but you can still see a list of links, then keep looking until the links disappear! Sharpening your eye or maybe refine your alphabetical index skill. :)

Add a Word: This dictionary is not exhaustive; ASL signs are constantly added to the dictionary. If you don't find a word/sign, you can send your request (only if a single link doesn't show in the result).

Videos: The first video may be NOT the answer you're looking for. There are several signs for different meanings, contexts, and/or variations. Browsing all the way down to the next search box is highly recommended.

Video speed: Signing too fast in the videos? See HELP in the footer.

ASL has its own grammar and structure in sentences that works differently from English. For plurals, verb inflections, word order, etc., learn grammar in the "ASL Learn" section. For search in the dictionary, use the present-time verbs and base words. If you look for "said", look up the word "say". Likewise, if you look for an adjective word, try the noun or vice versa. E.g. The ASL signs for French and France are the same. If you look for a plural word, use a singular word.