WHEN in sign language

How to sign "when" in American Sign Language (ASL)?

Printable ASL sign for WHEN as in question
Printable for "when" as in question.

ASL signs for WHEN

The English word "when" is used in two different ways -- one is the question as in "When will you leave?" and another is the conjunction as in "When it's my turn, my legs shake." In ASL, "when" for the conjunction is not used in English sense. It has its own grammar.

"when" as a question

Meaning: At or on which (referring to a time or circumstance).

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant horizontal forefinger with the palm inward/down a little above the non-dominant horizontal forefinger of the similar palm orientation moves in circle clockwise around the non-moving forefinger and lands on the tip of the non-dominant forefinger.

Old variation (maybe obsolete or nearly obsolete nowadays): Two-handed horizontal "G" hands with the forefingers and thumbs facing each other apart in space move downward twice.

Related signs: WH-QUESTION.

Other WH-Questions: WHERE, WHY, WHAT, WHO, HOW, WHICH.

"when" as a conjunction

If one is signing WHEN as a conjunction in an ASL sentence, it's expressed in English gloss, not true ASL in most cases. In ASL, there are ways of using that concept without the English conjunction "when". It may be difficult for beginners; it's usually taught in the intermediate and above levels.

There is no single answer when translating different English sentences using the "when" conjunction, just like "when" can mean different in English, such as "after" or "at the same time". Here is a few examples to give you a general idea.

Non-manual signal is used. For example, for the English sentence "When it's my turn, my legs shake.", the ASL glosses are as follows: [raised eyebrows] MY-TURN [raised eyebrows], IX-me CLASSIFIER-legs-shaking.

For English conjunctions "as, when, and while" to mean "during the time that" or "at the time that", to connect two events happening at the same time, one of some possible uses in ASL are [raised eyebrows] THAT TIME or sometimes "WHILE/DURING", depending on what sentences are.

Sometimes, there is no conjunction in ASL when translating an English sentence that contains a conjunction. For example:

English: "While he was working, he often listened to radio." ASL glossed as: "IX-he WORK+++ TEND-to[ma] LISTEN-HEAR+++ RADIO." No conjunction is used.

English: "As she was leaving the court, a crowd of news reporters gathered around her. Again, the ASL sentence for this would show a scene without using a conjunction.

Can ASL conjunction "HAPPEN" be used as a "when clause"? In general, no. This tutorial on the conjunction "HAPPEN" has more explanation.

First 100 words.

  1. again
  2. also
  3. ask
  4. bad
  5. boy
  6. but
  7. can
  8. come
  9. deaf
  10. different
  11. drink
  12. drive
  13. eat
  14. email
  15. excuse
  16. family
  17. feel
  18. few
  19. find
  20. fine
  21. fingerspell
  22. finish
  23. food
  24. for
  25. forget
  26. friend
  27. get
  28. girl
  29. give
  30. go
  31. good
  32. have, has, had
  33. he
  34. hearing
  35. hello
  36. help
  37. home
  38. how
  39. Internet
  40. know
  41. later
  42. like (feeling)
  43. little
  44. live
  45. man
  46. many
  47. me
  48. meet
  49. more
  50. my
  51. name
  52. need
  53. new
  54. no
  55. not
  56. now
  57. ok, okay
  58. old
  59. other
  60. please
  61. remember
  62. same
  63. say
  64. school
  65. see
  66. she
  67. should
  68. sign, signed word
  69. slow
  70. some
  71. sorry
  72. store
  73. take
  74. tell
  75. text, sms
  76. thank, thank you
  77. their
  78. they
  79. think
  80. time
  81. tired
  82. try
  83. understand
  84. use
  85. wait
  86. want
  87. what
  88. when
  89. where
  90. which
  91. who
  92. why
  93. will
  94. with
  95. woman
  96. work
  97. write
  98. yes
  99. you
  100. your

As you feel more comfortable with the first few hundreds of ASL signs, progress further with your vocabulary and learn signing more.