American Sign Language Grammar: “To Be Verbs”

Many people have asked us about how to sign verbs in American Sign Language (ASL).  Now, with most languages, a complete sentence would consist of at least one noun and one verb.  However, in many cases, American Sign Language doesn’t have verb conjugations.  And, there are NO “To be verbs” in ASL.

In English, the “To be verbs” include:  am, is, are, was, were, be.

Now, in American Sign Language, this is how you can substitute the “to be” verbs.

  • Use “now / present” for  “am, is, are
  • Use “future / will” for “will be
  • Use “past / before” for the past tense “was / were
  • “Become” can function as a “to be” verb.  Ex. I become sick.

Now, you may understand why certain questions in ASL, do not have any “to be” verbs.

  1.  How are you?  (English)
    1. How you? (ASL)
  2. I am fine.  (English)
    1. Me fine. (ASL)
  3. I was sick. (English)
    1. Me before sick (ASL)
  4. We were hungry. (English)
    1. We hungry before (ASL)
  5. She will be 50 years old next week. (English)
    1. She become old 50 (next week) future.