Like any truly satisfying system, astrology classifies and interprets its basic building blocks in a number of ways. Just for starters, each sign is defined by a polarity (positive or negative reaction pattern), a quality or modality (form of expression), and an element (describing basic temperament).

Polarity: Dividing the zodiac by two

You can figure out the polarity of each sign by dividing the zodiac in half. Beginning with Aries, six positive or masculine signs alternate with six negative or feminine signs. Many astrologers use the terms yin and yang instead.

Positive (yang) signs are more extroverted, objective, and assertive.

Negative (yin) signs are more introverted, subjective, and receptive.

The zodiac can also be divided into pairs of opposing signs. The opposite signs are:

Aries and Libra,

Taurus and Scorpio,

Gemini and Sagittarius,

Cancer and Capricorn,

Leo and Aquarius,

Virgo and Pisces.

Modality: Dividing the zodiac by three

The three modalities describe different forms of expression, as follows:

Cardinal signs are enterprising. They initiate change and make things happen. The cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn.

Fixed signs consolidate and preserve change. They’re focused and determined. The fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.

Mutable signs are flexible and versatile. They adapt and adjust. The mutable signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

Within the cycle of the zodiac, the three modalities occur in sequence. Cardinal energy initiates change, fixed energy digs its heels in and maintains the status quo, and mutable energy adapts to shifting circumstances.

Elements: Dividing the zodiac by four

Describing the temperament of each sign of the zodiac by assigning it to one of the four ancient elements is probably the most famous method of classification. The four elements are fire, earth, air, and water:

Fire brings vitality, excitement, and intensity. The fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.

Earth gives stability, common sense, and the ability to get things done. The earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

Air enlivens the intellect and enhances sociability. The air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.

Water strengthens the emotions and the intuition. The water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.

Putting the zodiac back together

Once you know the order of the signs, it’s easy to assign them to their correct polarity, modality, and element because those classifications always occur in sequence. Those classifications convey a great deal of information. If all you know is the polarity, modality, and element of each sign, you know a lot.

The Qualities of the Signs

Sign Polarity Modality Element
Aries Positive Cardinal Fire
Taurus Negative Fixed Earth
Gemini Positive Mutable Air
Cancer Negative Cardinal Water
Leo Positive Fixed Fire
Virgo Negative Mutable Earth
Libra Positive Cardinal Air
Scorpio Negative Fixed Water
Sagittarius Positive Mutable Fire
Capricorn Negative Cardinal Earth
Aquarius Positive Fixed Air
Pisces Negative Mutable Water

Example 1

Cancer: It’s the sign of negative cardinal water. This tells you that Crabs tend to be internal and receptive (negative), with a heavy dose of initiative (cardinal), and strong emotional awareness (water).

Example 2

Leo: It’s the sign of positive fixed fire. That means Leos are extrovert (positive), dedicated (fixed), and full of life (fire).  

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