cue notation

Cue notation is a way to transcribe handshape and placement sequences using numbers and letters (e.g., 3t1m indicates how one would cue the word happy). This system is not a written language for Cued Speech users. Native cuers use the written form of the language they cue (e.g., written English for cued English users). Cue notation is a way to transcribe how a word is cued, which can be helpful for students while learning to cue. 



Each handshape is assigned a number from one to eight. This number is solely for reference and does not indicate how the English words for numbers (e.g., six, eight, one) are cued. The numbers generally correspond to the number of extended fingers when the handshape is formed. For example, the handshape for /ddddddddd/  is produced with only the pointer finger extended. It is referred to as Handshape 1. The handshape for /kkkkkkkkk/  is produced with the index and middle fingers extended. That handshape is referred to as Handshape 2. The handshape for /hhhhhhhhh/ requires the cuer to extend the middle, ring, and pinky fingers. That handshape is referred to as Handshape 3. The handshape that represents /bbbbbbbbb/ uses all four extended fingers with the thumb hidden. This is handshape 4.

After Handshape 5 (for which all five fingers are extended), the thumb carries a value of five. So the handshape for /lllllllll/ (with the thumb and index finger extended) is referred to as Handshape 6. The exception to these guidelines is Handshape 8. Handshape 8 is formed similarly to Handshape 2 by extending the index and middle finger, however, the fingers are spread apart. The table below shows an illustration for each hanshape with its cue notation symbol.

Handshape Symbol Phonemes
1 /ddddddddd, ppppppppp, ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/
2 /kkkkkkkkk, vvvvvvvvv, ðt͟htHðt͟htHðt͟htH, zzzzzzzzz/
3 /hhhhhhhhh, rrrrrrrrr, sssssssss/
4 /bbbbbbbbb, nnnnnnnnn, ʍhwhwʍhwhwʍhwhw/
5 /mmmmmmmmm, fffffffff, ttttttttt/
6 /lllllllll, ʃshshʃshshʃshsh, wwwwwwwww/
7 /ʤjjʤjjʤjj, ggggggggg, θththθththθthth/
8 /ʧchchʧchchʧchch, jyyjyyjyy, ŋngngŋngngŋngng/


An exception to the numbering system is Cued Speech adaptation for Polish – Fonogesty. Our handshape 5 is referred to as Układ 1 in Fonogesty. Our handshape 3 is their Układ 8.


The placements are each assigned a letter corresponding to the first letter of the name for the placement. The letter "c" stands for the "chin" and "m" stands for the "mouth".

Placement Symbol Phonemes
chin c /ɔôawɔôawɔôaw, ɛěehɛěehɛěeh, uo͞oueuo͞oueuo͞oue/
mouth m /iēeeiēeeiēee, ɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/
throat t /æăaæăaæăa, ɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi, ʊo͝oooʊo͝oooʊo͝ooo/
side s n/a (consonant alone)
side-down sd /ʌŭuhʌŭuhʌŭuh, əəəəəəəəə/
side-forward sf /ɑäahɑäahɑäah, ōohōohōoh/

Sample Cue Notation

Because cueing represents consonant-vowel units, both the number (handshape) and letter (placement) must be written sequentially. Following are some examples:

Word Phonemes Meta Information Cue Notation
He /hhhhhhhhhiēeeiēeeiēee/  = handshape 3
 = mouth placement
she /ʃshshʃshshʃshshiēeeiēeeiēee/ = handshape 6
 = mouth placement
Him /hhhhhhhhhɪĭiɪĭiɪĭimmmmmmmmm_/ /hhhhhhhhh/ = handshape 3
/ɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi/ = throat placement
/mmmmmmmmm/ = handshape 5
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
Her /hhhhhhhhhɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/ /hhhhhhhhh/ = handshape 3
/ɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/ = mouth placement
Eat /iēeeiēeeiēee_ttttttttt_/ _ = handshape 5 (no consonant)
/iēeeiēeeiēee/ = mouth placement
/ttttttttt/ = handshape 5
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
You /jyyjyyjyyuo͞oueuo͞oueuo͞oue/ /jyyjyyjyy/ = handshape 8
/uo͞oueuo͞oueuo͞oue/ = chin placement
Heater /hhhhhhhhhiēeeiēeeiēeetttttttttɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/ /hhhhhhhhh/ = handshape 3
/iēeeiēeeiēee/ = mouth placement
/ttttttttt/ = handshape 5
/ɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/ = mouth placement
Finish /fffffffffɪĭiɪĭiɪĭinnnnnnnnnɪĭiɪĭiɪĭiʃshshʃshshʃshsh_/ /fffffffff/ = handshape 5
/ɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi/ = throat placement
/nnnnnnnnn/ = handshape 4
/ɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi/ = throat placement
/ʃshshʃshshʃshsh/ = handshape 6
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
Streets /sssssssss_ttttttttt_rrrrrrrrriēeeiēeeiēeettttttttt_sssssssss_/ /sssssssss/ = handshape 3
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
/ttttttttt/ = handshape 5
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
/rrrrrrrrr/ = handshape 3
/iēeeiēeeiēee/ = mouth placement
/ttttttttt/ = handshape 5
_ = side placement (consonant alone)
/sssssssss/ = handshape 3
_ = side placement (consonant alone)


Diphthongs are two vowels that occur together in a single syllable. When cued, the hand moves from one vowel placement to another with handshape 5 occuring for the second vowel. In cue notation, diphthongs may be shown without spaces or with hyphens:

hey = 3c5t or 3c-5t

how = 3s5t or 3s-5t

While many instructional materials use the hyphen, it is not necessary. While some see a need to show a difference between the cues for diphthongs and the cues for single vowels, there is no such difference. For example, the words sites and stats are cued identically. The transition between the side and throat is no different whether it is within a diphthong or not. By electing not to use the hyphen, instructors may reinforce that no special movements occur in diphthongs (e.g., swooping or arching).

Resources that identify diphthongs ast s-t or c-t do not indicate the need to change handshapes for the offglide (i.e., second half) of the diphthong. So, notating the word hi as 3s-t does not include the change to handshape 5 that would be necessary. 3s5t more faithfully represents the cues. 

Other Conventions


Flicks can be represented with an apostrophe (') or an asterisk (*). This site uses an asterisk to avoid confusion with stress marks shown in the pronunication (e.g., raft).


Sometimes a comma (,) is used between cued segments (e.g., happiness 3t, 1m, 4t, 3s). 

Benefits of Cue Notation


For beginners, cue notation is a valuable tool in that it allows them to record how words are cued. By transcribing the handshape-placement combinations, they can refer back to words on their own and see how they were cued during class. While not every word may be transcribed during an introductory course, cue notation can be used for several words in each lesson and for tough-to-cue words.


Another advantage for new cuers is the process of writing cue notation. In order to transcribe words, they must group segments into consonant-vowel pairs. This allows them to systematically break words down in the way they will need to be cued while also allowing them to self-monitor (on paper) whether they did so accurately. This can be an important intemediary step for new cuers. While they won't transcribe every word before cueing it, students can learn to use cue notation as a step for words that they struggle to cue. 

Additionally, cue notation provides a "road map" to cueing. For students who are unsure whether they should return to the side placement for a word, cue notation supplies the answers (e.g., no is cued as 4sf and known as 4sf 4s). 

Correspondence/ Text

One of the greatest advantages of cue notation is that it can be typed. Beginner cuers can e-mail instructors for advice on how to cue a word and the response can be sent as letters and numbers rather than as a large video file. 

Using the Cued English Dictionary

The cued English dictionary on DailyCues provides cuers with how-do-you-cue answers to nearly 140,000 words. While some have video, cue notation is sufficient to convey how words are cued. Instructors who introduce cue notation in their beginner workshops empower students to learn to cue independently by using online resources for support. 

See Also