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You already know (basic) ASL Grammar:

Whenever someone asks for an explanation of "ASL Grammar" I always want to ask them:

Would you mind first looking up the definition of "grammar?"

Here, let me share an actual dictionary definition of grammar with you:

grammar: The whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics. (Source:

Did you read that?!?

Grammar is the WHOLE system and structure of a language including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and all the freaking inflections!

You don't learn grammar in an hour or two folks. You learn "grammar" in years.

Oh, sure, you can learn about 250 rules in a semester of study. But Honestly? Why bother?

Why learn grammar?!?

I know why. You are searching for a shortcut. You are thinking that if you could just learn the "rules" and a few hundred vocabulary words -- PRESTO! All done!

Sorry. It doesn't work like that.

For the vast, vast majority of you -- you are going to be better off just diving in and learning how to communicate and not worrying about the rules.

Oh hey, I understand that for those who are going to build a career around teaching and using ASL -- knowing the big words (or specialized signs) to discuss ASL can be a time saving ability when surrounded by other folks who know those same big words (and specialized signs).

But for most people it would be a waste of time.

For example: I didn't invest years learning how the transmission, combustion, and electrical systems of my car work. Instead I learned how to drive and started driving and got (relatively) good at driving and now can drive where I want to go.

You don't need to know the grammar "rules" of ASL to have a wonderful life full of communicating with friends and associates in ASL.

Walk up to any random (non-ASL teacher) Deaf friend and ask them to name for you 10 rules of ASL grammar. I bet you the vast majority of them "might" at best mumble a thing or two about "topic / comment" and beyond that just shrug their shoulders and tell you to ask a teacher.

My point here is that most typical Deaf people can't identify and explain the rules of ASL -- and we don't need to. We just need to communicate with each other in effective efficient ways to get what we want and achieve our communication goals.

For most ASL learners -- every minute you spend learning a grammar rule is a minute you wasted that could have been better invested learning ASL vocabulary and then watching actual (better yet, participating in) ASL interactions in context-rich settings.

I've asked numerous ASL teachers, what is the most common (basic) word order in American Sign Language -- and they usually get the answer wrong. Not kidding here.

They tell me it is OSV.

That is wrong.

The basic word order of ASL sentences is good old subject-verb-object.

Don't believe me? Go argue with the (Gallaudet-based) authors of the "Linguistics of American Sign Language" book.

I've documented it here for your convenience:

That's right -- "the basic word order in ASL sentences with transitive verbs is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO)." 

Yes, yes, of course we "also" use topicalization (OSV) but in ASL "OSV" is used less frequently than SVO.

That means the basic sign order of ASL is the same basic word order of English!

Which means English users already know the basic sign order of ASL! It is the same order you have been using your whole life.

Again, if you don't believe me, invest the time to actually study the topic and stop swallowing or perpetuating the myth.

Real Deaf people do NOT typically sign:

We just don't.

We typically just sign "I GO STORE."

The "STORE, I GO" example is a myth. I've even noted Deaf vloggers teaching the "myth" and then later caught them signing off guard (when they weren't thinking about it) and not following the myth they taught earlier. (They contradicted themselves.)  For links and proof, see:

(Note: The Lifeprint-ASLU Facebook group is a closed group-- you may need to apply and be granted membership to read the article. For your convenience I'll post that article in the notes section below.)

I'm going to sum this post up by saying:

Don't worry about ASL grammar because you already know the basic word order and you have better things to do with your time.

[Sure -- if you want to study ASL grammar for FUN -- go for it -- but don't "worry" about it.]

p.s. This post is absolutely not aimed at any individual. I honestly was not thinking about any one person as I wrote this. Rather it is a general discussion that if you have been a member of this group for a while will instantly recognize as being consistent with my other posts.

p.p.s. Feel free to argue with me about this topic but please have the courtesy to not waste my time by only arguing after you have read the information at the links I've included above. Do your homework first so you can discuss things intelligently.

Thanks and have a wonderful rest of the day.

- Dr. Bill :) 



The myth of "STORE I GO"

I would like to gently suggest to you that the "store I go" syntax is an unfortunate myth. In real life the vast majority of socially active native Deaf adult ASL signers in conversation with other fluent signers just sign "I GO STORE."

The myth has been told so often and for so long (often by Hearing teachers of ASL or even some young Deaf teachers that aren't all that great at ASL themselves) that many people (who haven't lived in the Deaf Community for a lifetime) believe it -- yet it simply isn't the case. While there are certainly times when that sentence should be topicalized -- such situations are comparatively rare to the extent that claiming otherwise is somewhat misleading.

We see it here: where the (Deaf, fluent) signer (Channing Brown) mentions "going into a store" (not "store, going into).

Here we see Zach Lotane (profoundly Deaf) signing "if I should go store" and not "store, I go."

Example from two fluent signers: Jill is Hearing and her wife is Deaf

Note how she doesn't sign "store, can enter" -- instead she signs "can enter store." See Jill signing "I go store" again here:…

You can see Jenna (Deaf) signing "have to go other store" not "other store, have to go to."

Here we see Rogan (Deaf) signing, "I go store" -- not "store I go."

See Chey Clearbrook (Deaf) here explaining how she signs "I go store" in ASL:…

Here we see Chey (Deaf) signing "every time I walk into a store..." -- not "store, I walk into."

Remember, I've suggested to you that you will indeed find examples of Deaf teaching the "STORE I GO" construction but I encourage you to also look for examples of those *same* individuals discussing going to the store in a natural setting when they are not thinking about it.

For example, Ryan (Deaf) has a video out where he actually teaches the myth (store, go), yet in another video when he isn't "thinking about it" he just naturally signs "go store" (contradicting himself).

Here it is at: Don't misunderstand my point. He seems like a really, really, nice guy. (And his opinion counts as one vote.) I'm just saying that even many Deaf have bought into the myth -- yet in everyday real life ASL signing when we aren't "thinking about it" the vast majority of us sign "I go store." (Not, "Store, I go.").

The use of "STORE I GO" as an example of American Sign Language (ASL) is not representative of the type of signing being done by socially active adult Deaf native signers in natural interactive conversations..

It is a myth.


Observation would suggest that often the individuals teaching this are learners of ASL as a second language and/or have NOT spent a lifetime of interacting with socially active adult Deaf native signers. This isn't to say that there aren't many excellent Hearing teachers of ASL. There are many excellent ones. It is also not to suggest that the signing of the myth makes a Deaf person any less Deaf. It is simply to suggest that a lifetime of interacting with Deaf and using ASL as your primary language leads people to use it in natural ways that flow and are very efficient. (Also know as "fluently.")

Polite comments and discussion are certainly welcome. Do your best to back up your comments with real world examples from natural ASL conversations by fluent signers. If this devolves comments will shut off and we will move on to the next delightful discussion. Any previous threads wherein people in this group have provided "store I go" as an example should be thought of as "Well, that is one vote from that person, thanks!" It is by comparing and contrasting ideas that we can develop a deep understanding of a topic.


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