The Big Three: What Your Sun, Moon, and Rising Signs Actually Mean

written by LAUREN E. TAYLOR
Graphics by: Kirra Wallace
Graphics by: Kirra Wallace

Some people just don’t relate to their zodiac sign. Maybe you’re a Sagittarius, but instead of being outgoing and spontaneous, you’re more of the quiet, serious type. Or maybe you’re a Leo who hates the spotlight. Or maybe you think you’re exactly like your sun sign, but you kind of see yourself in a few other signs, too (I, for one, always felt like a Leo but thought I also had some Capricorn traits).

Well, there’s a reason for that. Your sun sign actually doesn’t give you the whole picture. Everyone has multiple birth chart placements that make up their personality. Taking a detailed look at your birth chart could help explain why you relate to other signs or why you don’t feel like your zodiac sign.

In addition to your sun sign, the other main astrological placements that make up the core of who you are are the moon and ascendant (AKA rising). These are often called “the big three.” But if you’ve only heard of your sun sign, don’t worry. We’re breaking down everything you need to know about (and how to find) your big three (sun, moon, and rising) signs below.

Zodiac Terms to Know

Before we dive into the details, you’ll need to be familiar with some key terms, and how they relate to the different signs. You’ve likely heard of the elements (I know you’ve heard of the fiery Aries), but do you know what that really means? The elements relate to the motivations and values of certain signs. You may be less familiar with your sign’s modality, but it’s just as important. The modalities are how those elemental qualities present themselves. 

What The Different Placements Mean

To find your sun, moon, and rising, go to a birth chart calculator like this one and enter your exact time of birth (this means getting specific to the minute—none of this, “I was born in the morning” stuff), birthdate, and place of birth. Once you’ve found your big three, read below to find out what each placement means.


The sun sign (AKA zodiac sign or star sign) is the sign that most people know since you only need your date of birth to find it. It’s what you tell people when they ask you what your sign is—”I’m a Taurus” or “I’m a Cancer.”

The sun represents your identity, sense of self, and ego. The sign your sun is in indicates what motivates and drives you, and it also can show how you express yourself.

It can take a while to grow into your sun sign, so if you don’t relate to yours, you may start to as you get older, the same way you become more confident in yourself as you mature.

What your sun sign can tell you about your core self:

  • Sun in Fire signs: Strong personality, straightforward, outgoing, loyal
  • Sun in Earth signs: Hard-working, responsible, realistic, dependable
  • Sun in Air signs: Sociable, love of learning, always thinking and doing something
  • Sun in Water signs: Intuitive, nurturing, introverted

You may have heard of “cusp” signs, which refers to being born in between two signs. Some people say they’re a cusp and pick and choose when they want to be one sign or the other. But since zodiac signs are defined by specific dates and times, there’s actually no such thing as a cusp sign—you can’t be both a Libra and a Scorpio.

Just like you can’t be in two places at once, neither can the sun. It’s either in one sign or the next. If you were born on the first or last day of a season, your sign will depend on when the sun moved into the following sign. So if the sun moved from Aries into Taurus at 12:00 pm, people born before 12 would be an Aries, while those born after 12 would be a Taurus. You’ll have to look up your birth chart with your birth time to find out which sign you are.


Your moon sign represents the inner you—who you are when you’re alone and how you view yourself. It also indicates how you process and communicate your emotions and what you need to feel comfortable.

Your moon sign is an extremely important placement when looking at compatibility since it tells you how you can feel emotionally secure. If your moon sign is in the same element (Fire, Water, Earth, or Air) or is the same modality (Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable) as your partner’s, it helps you understand each other.

What the moon signs need to nurture themselves and feel comfortable:

  • Moon in Fire signs: Attention, adventures, a partner or friends who care as much as you do
  • Moon in Earth signs: Work, routine, stability
  • Moon in Air signs: Intellectual stimulation, new things, social interaction
  • Moon in Water signs: Alone time, caretaking


The rising sign, also known as the Ascendant, is how you project yourself. It’s your first impression, how others see you, and how you interact with and view the world.

The Ascendant is super important because it sets up the whole birth chart. Your birth chart is a wheel that’s divided into 12 houses (or segments of the circle), one for each zodiac sign. The order of these houses is determined by the rising sign.

Before sun sign and pop astrology became popular, when someone asked, “What’s your sign?”, they were actually referring to your rising sign. That’s because it’s the sign that’s most indicative of how you’re different from other people born during your birth month (or even on the same day as you). The rising sign changes frequently—every two hours (for reference, the moon changes signs around every two days). That’s why you need an exact birth time to accurately calculate your birth chart.

And a little tip: If you want the most accurate horoscope reading, read for your rising sign. Astrologers write horoscopes for rising signs (not sun signs) because they use the ascendant to figure out where events are occurring in your chart.

How the rising signs come across:

  • Fire risings: Energetic, extroverted, competitive
  • Earth risings: Determined, grounded, even-keeled
  • Air risings: Curious, talkative, restless
  • Water risings: Emotional, quiet

The Bottom Line

Knowing your full chart and not just your sun sign is important for understanding all aspects of your personality within the zodiac. Some people might even identify more with their rising or moon sign than with their sun sign. Knowing your birth chart can help you better understand your relationships with others, too. Since there’s way more to compatibility than just sun signs. Plus, once you know your rising sign, you can start reading your horoscope the way the pros do. When you’re trying to understand yourself and your friends, family, and significant other through the zodiac, be sure to take into account the whole birth chart.