In American Sign Language classifiers are used to show movement, location, and appearance for each desired sign. After a person or thing is indicated by the signer, classifiers can be used in their place to show type, size, name, movement, or extent of the information given. They are also known as “potential classifiers” since whether that “potential classifier” becomes an actual classifier depends upon the context of the sentence given.

Five Main Classifiers:

  • Hand Shape
  • Movement
  • Palm Orientation
  • Location
  • Non Manual Markers (these include other aspects of body language not including hand gestures)

In this video is an example of the number 1 can be used to demonstrate multiple meanings of a sign in ASL.

Common Classifier Examples

Lentz, E. M., Mikos, K., Smith, C., & Dawn Sign Press. (1988). Signing naturally teacher's curriculum guide. San Diego, CA: DawnSign Press.

Valli, C. & Lucas, C. (2000). Linguistics of American Sign Language. (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

“Classifiers in American Sign Language.” John A. Logan College Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2011. <>.