"No" in sign language

This entry shows how to sign 'no' in sign language and a little cute theory why it's signed that way. In another video far below, the baby learned to say no.

ASL signs for "no"

How do you say "no" in American Sign Language for beginners?

Meaning: Definition: Used to give a negative response; the opposite of yes.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant hand held in space with palm facing outward, first two fingers (index finger and middle finger together) tap with the thumb twice. The tap movement is sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes plural, depending on the contexts.

There are inflections of this signed word for other meanings, such as exclamation like "no!"

Did you know that the ASL sign "NO" was derived from the fingerspelled loan. This lexicalized sign was evolved into the ASL sign.

Other "No" signs

Here is a few more signs used by advanced and fluent signers.

This can mean "no" in euphemism, "don't do it", and other nuances.

Pronunciation (sign description): waving hand, palm orientation facing outward with the "oo" mouth morpheme, and shaking head.

In some contexts, the "no" response can be a bit harsh with this sign. The sign glossed as "NO-wave" is the euphemism. Or, it can be used properly in contexts.

Used with a very strong emphasis, typically among Deaf signers.

Shaking head is a common interjection used too. Head shaking doesn't just convey "no"; various movements along with facial expressions (intonation) also can convey other nuances of meanings, like "no way", "impossible", "doubtful", and other subtleties.


Related signs: NONE, NOT, NOPE.

Opposite: YES.

Baby/Toddler signing "no"

Children develop at different pace and with different strategies, but milestones are consistent regardless of sign language or speech language. Watch the video showing how the baby "Juli" acquired the signed word 'no' in early language acquisition in ASL.

In the video at age 1;5, the baby expressed a way other than the ASL word, such as body language or gesture. At 1;6, she recognized the written English word "no" in a kid book and uttered the ASL sign "no" which was not produced fully yet. At 1;9, the mother and the toddler responded at the same time. At age 1;11, as she lay down, she said in ASL, "I say/tell no".

Kids say the darnedest things

Nine-year-old bilingual ASL-speaking kid has got a little hypothetical question.

Translation: If the ASL word YES moves up/down, then why doesn't the ASL word/sign NO move sideways?

This kid's thought wasn't the first time. There had been some people here and there who had the same wonder, including myself in my early life. It's a natural logic.

So, in case you might wonder why the ASL sign for NO is this way. Hypothetically, 1) It's the phonetic thing (nothing to do with sound but to do with the brain and its linguistic processing). The sign NO is more efficient this way than the shaking "S" handshape. It's a natural language thing.

Etymology: Did you know that this ASL sign, which looks very much a non-fingerspelled form itself, was actually lexicalized from two fingerspelled N and O? It was a loanword but nobody could thought of it as a loanword.

First 100 words.

  1. again
  2. also
  3. ask
  4. because
  5. boy
  6. but
  7. can
  8. come
  9. condone
  10. deaf
  11. different
  12. drink
  13. drive
  14. eat
  15. email
  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
  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.