Each element of a rumah gadang has its own symbolic meaning, which is referred to in adat speech and aphorisms. The elements of a rumah gadang includes:
- gonjong, hornlike roof structure
- singkok, triangular wall under the ends of gonjong
- pereng, shelf under the singkok
- anjuang, raised floor at the end of one style of rumah gadang
- dindiang ari, the walls on the side elevations
- dindiang tapi, the walls on the front and back elevations
- papan banyak, front facade
- papan sakapiang, a shelf or middle band on the periphery of the house
- salangko, wall enclosing space under a house that has been built on stilts
Some symbolisms of the house, for example, relate to the gonjong reaching to god, and the dindiang tapi, which is traditionally made of plaited strips of bamboo, symbolizing the strength and utility of the community which is formed when individual Minangkabau become part of the larger community instead of standing alone.
The pillars of the ideal rumah gadang are arranged in five rows which run the length of the house. These rows divide the interior into four long spaces called lanjar. The lanjar at the rear of the house is divided into bedrooms (ruang). According to adat, a rumah gadang must have at least five ruang, and the ideal number is nine. The other lanjar are used as a common area, called the labuah gajah (elephant road), for living and ceremonial events.
A number of rice barns (rangkiang) ideally accompany a rumah gadang, with each having a different name and function. The rangkiang sitinjau lauik, contains rice for the family, particularly for adat ceremonies. The rangkiang sitangka lapa contains rice for donation to poor villagers and for times of famine in the village. The rangkiang sibayau-bayau contains rice for the daily needs of the family.