Thank you for another ASL interesting question.
Introduction to learning ASL
"Tenses (past, present and future) are indicated by the position of
the sign in front of the body. Present tense signs are made in front
of the body. Past tense signs move backward. Future tense signs move
forward away from the body."
Silent Eloquence The sophistication of American Sign Language
"The fascinating part is that within this space, not only individual
hand-signs but all movements have their own assigned grammatical
significance. This is the third element in ASL grammar. For instance,
the hands are making signs more or less in the center of this space
when time is neutral, but for the future tense, the hands are moved
forward, and for the past tense they are moved back (=toward the
signer's shoulder). This is called the `time line'."
A Survey of ASL Tenses
5.2 Time Adverbials
[Middle of page see Figure 1 [iii] illustration of Far Past, Past,
Near Past, Present, Near Future, Future, Far Future]
"ASL expresses information about time with a specific set of signs
that are produced in relation to what is called a time line,
illustrated on the Figure 1 [iii]. The time signs have a relative
location on the time line, which agrees with their meaning. In
addition to the timeline, the height defines the coordinate system of
the sign location. In some cases, height distinguishes tense markers
from time adverbials."
Wkipedia Topic-prominent language
American Sign Language (ASL)
"The topic of the sentence, that is the focus of the sentence, is put
at the beginning. For example, in translating the English phrase "We
are going to the store tomorrow", some possible ASL sentences,
literally translated, could be:
- "WE GO STORE TOMORROW."
- "TOMORROW, STORE WE GO." (Topicalization, TOMORROW is the focus)
- "*STORE, WE GO TOMORROW." (Topicalization, STORE is the
focus)(Proper ASL structure, though, uses the time indicator first, so
the proper ASL form would be the second one: "TOMORROW, STORE WE
[Click on the small white arrow to play video of In the past]
"The dominant hand, palm back, waves over the back of the shoulder.
This is a general sign for "past." In this case, it establishes that
the tense has changed, and we are now talking about what happened in
"In ASL, there is a "time line," with the past behind the body and the
future in front. A more enthusiastic backward movement would mean "a
long time past.""
"American Sign Language has its own grammar system, separate from that of English.
What this means is ASL grammar has its own rules for phonology,
morphology, syntax, and pragmatics.
In general, ASL sentences follow a "TOPIC" "COMMENT" arrangement.
Another name for a "comment" is the term "predicate." A predicate is
simply a word or phrase that says something about a topic. In general,
the subject of a sentence is your topic. The predicate is your
When discussing past and future events we tend to establish a
time-frame before the rest of the sentence.
That gives us a "TIME" "TOPIC" "COMMENT" structure.
or "WEEK-PAST Pro1 WASH MY CAR "
[The "Pro1" term means to use a first-person pronoun. A first-person
pronoun means "I or me." So "Pro1" is just a fancy way of saying "I"
or "me." In the above example you would simply point at yourself to
Lastly, when I originally locked your question earlier today, I found
the following page and it has a good description with images on Time
Indicators. Currently the site is down for maintenance.
You may be able to view a cached version of the page at:
2.1 ASL Grammar
"The grammar of ASL is generally simpler than that of
English (American Standard or any other dialect). For
example, modifiers for tense (past, present, future) occur
before a phrase is signed, and stay in effect until another
modifier is given. The single sign for "to go" could mean
"will go," "have/has gone," and "am going," depending on
whether a modifier for future, present, or past tense is
ASL time line timeline indicators
american sign language timeline past present future tense grammar modifiers