How To Sign What in Sign Language

Another important sign to know is “what.” When you are trying to communicate with a Deaf person, knowing this sign is valuable because you can signify when you’re confused or need more information.

Directions for Signing "What" in Sign Language:

  1. Hand Position: Open both hands, with palms facing up.
  2. Placement: Hold both hands up in front of you, palms up, fingers pointing forward.
  3. Movement: Shake both hands side-to-side a couple of times. The movement is relatively small.
  4. Facial Expression: As with many wh-question words in ASL, furrow or lower your eyebrows when signing "what." This helps convey the inquisitive nature of the word.


The typical sign for "what" when used in a standalone context (like when someone says something you didn't hear or understand). However, ASL grammar can differ from English, and there are contexts where "what" might not be signed in the same way, especially in more complex sentence structures.

Learn who to sign other important "W" words in sign:
WhoWhatWhereWhy | How

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Learn more signs on our regularly updated ASL page! As you're picking up sign language, try using Ava for more meaningful conversations with Deaf and hard-of-hearing people.