ASL University ►

American Sign Language: "grace"

In a message dated 4/12/2012 12:46:12 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, a student named Ty writes:

Dr. Bill,
I noticed your religion site has no sign for grace or (God's) mercy. There are 2 sites with 2 different answers. Signing Savvy uses 2 hands. Deaf .Nation uses one, which is Who is right?

Dear Ty,
The "right" sign for "GRACE" is going to depend on what is mostly used in your area by local native Deaf church-going adults.
I personally recommend you do the sign GRACE using only one hand (unless you are performing a song in which the concept is used repeatedly and you wish to vary the presentation of the sign for poetic purposes).
The version I recommend looks somewhat like the sign for SUN (below) but comes down toward the head as if representing Gods grace showering down upon you and/or the Light of God shining down upon you.
- Dr. Bill

SUN [version]

For other versions of the sign for SUN, see: SUN



Seakats99 writes:

Hi Dr. Bill!

I have some confusion over the word "grace".  I typically use the "g" sign from over my shoulder to my chest, but my Deaf friend says something different.  I am teaching how to sign songs to my music and drama teens at my church.  My Deaf friend insists that the correct sign, in regards to our Christian faith, is both i-l-y hands (facing the body) coming towards you.  Is this an old sign?  I'm not going to teach the kids the wrong sign; I only speak pidgen and not asl, so I want to make sure that if they decide to learn actual asl, they haven't picked up any habits/wrong words along the way.  What do you know about it?  Thanks!

 Katy Turkell



Yes, I've seen that initialized "G" handshape version of GRACE before. I suppose if that is what the local Deaf in your area are using then you would do well to use their version.
For what it is worth, the standard GRACE sign is based on one of three concepts:


2. KIND/kindness/grace

3. PITY/compassion/grace
In all cases the sign GRACE is done very gently and respectfully.

The movement of the LY-toward-self version you mentioned is likely based on the SHOWER version of GRACE.

I can see a historical basis for the SHOWER or SUNLIGHT version in Martin Sternberg's classic ASL dictionary in which he shows GRACE as being:

1. LIGHT-onto-head (using the classic beam of light sign and bringing it to the head).

2. HELP-[large-movement]
I do not see the "HELP" sign used as a direct translation of GRACE but rather if someone were interpreting the statement "By the grace of God..." then using the sign HELP would make a lot of sense.

The ILY-grace version you mention has a bit of sophomoric charm (it is "cute") and could very well be a regional variation -- so I'd hesitate to say it is "wrong."  I would though say it is non-standard (as of this time) on a national level. However, these days (with the internet and streaming video) "new" signs can saturate the community and gain a foothold fairly quickly.  My opinion is that the ILY-grace sign will not become the predominant version of GRACE any time soon (if ever). I'm going to cc this to a friend of mine who is quite familiar with religion signs to see if she what she thinks.


- Bill


May 1, 2014, Dr. Lisalee Egbert from Sacramento State writes:

Hello Katy,

I have a passion for studying religious and ecumenical signs in ASL.


I agree with Dr. Vicars -- depending on the MEANING of grace it would be signed as kindness, big hearted, etc. In the JW bible, I even saw it translated as "cool."  Meaning  WITH FAVOR I believe.  LDS has used: SAVE GIVE-OUT and GOOD PASS-FORWARD for "grace."


There is a sign for GRACE. The Catholic Deaf Community still strongly uses the sign: one-handed - light from God (twisting your hand) twinkling down. (I am not as skilled as Dr. Vicars in describing signs.) I have even seen this same sign down double handed. It is very beautiful to me.  This the Holy Spirit descending.


I have see the G-hand shape for GRACE used from hearing interpreter. I do not believe this is a largely accepted ASL sign… it might have originate from SEE but it is not ASL and the Deaf Church Community does not seem to use it. 


Many faith communities have wonderful websites with ASL now: LDS, Catholic, JW, Hebrew, etc. It is fascinating to me to compare and contrast the Hebrew signs with the Christian signs -- because again, it comes down to history and meaning. For example, passover is signed very differently in the Jewish Faith compared to the Catholic faith. I encourage you to investigate the more established ASL religious websites; they all have a wealth of info!


Hands waving (in and for A.S.L. :0) ~



Dr. Lisalee D. Egbert

California State University, Sacramento

Deaf Studies Program

6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6079


Thanks Dr. Egbert!

The standard Catholic sign you mention (based on "GOD's LIGHT" shining on us) is a classic and likely the most defensible "standard." It is the first entry in Elaine Costello's "Religious Signing" textbook.  Her second entry shows an initialized "G" version coming down from God. (Which is considered by many to be a Signed English version and not "ASL.") Her third related entry is under the term GRACIOUS uses the same sign as KIND/kindness/grace.

-- Bill

p.s. Katy, for a very similar sign, see the first entry on my "sun.htm" page at Lifeprint:

Some people modify the sign so that it comes more down toward the head (rather than SUNLIGHT which comes down onto the area in front of the signer) but some do GRACE the exact same way as "SUN/SUNLIGHT."   Others "flutter" the fingers while doing the downward movement (especially for poetry and/or stage performance of hymns).  Fast interpreting will use much less internal movement and a much smaller sign than performance signing.


Also see: GRACEFUL



You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by  ©  Dr. William Vicars

Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >


back.gif (1674 bytes)