Return to site

UsiNG amaziNG Tagalog

Week 29, Episode 58

Digging deep into the logic and structure of the Tagalog language, you will find yourself thinking "Oh, that's so easy!" and "Oh, that's so difficult!" from one moment to another. Some things are so awesome they should totally exist in English, but some are quite complicated and might take a while before you'll learn to use them properly.

The alphabet is one the things that makes Tagalog easy—easy to read. It is a copy of the English one plus two additional letters: the Spanish ñ (pronounced enye) and the Tagalog's own ng (pronounced nung)—making it 28 letters in total.

The 28-letter version of the alphabet, called Makabagong Alpabetong Filipino (Modern Filipino Alphabet), was established in 1987. Before that abecedario—Spanish-derived version of 32 letters—and abakada—of 20 letters— were in use. So the modern version is something like abakada++: Tagalog's own 20 letters + 8 letters from the Spanish alphabet.

The grammar of Tagalog doesn't strike you as the simplest one. But there are good news, though: no verb conjugation. It means that the same form of a verb in a certain tense will be used for any of 7 Tagalog's personal pronouns—two of which are worth mentioning here.

In Tagalog there are two ways to say "we" depending on whether the person you're talking to is included or not: tayo (tah-yo) refers to "including you, my friend" and kami (kah-mee) implying "us without you." How clear and unambiguous.

The verb "to be" also has only one form for all the pronouns—ay (read like i) to replace am/is/are in an English sentence:

  • Ako ay si Alina. (Ah-koh i see Alina.) — I am Alina.
  • Tayo ay magkaibigan. (Tah-yo ay mug-kah-ee-bee-gun.) — We are friends.

When building sentences in Tagalog, consider the two types of the word order: Subject-Predicate type (the way it is done in English) or inverted type which is more popular amongst the citizens of the archipelago. In the inverted type you start with a predicate and place the subject after it. The word ay in this case is not needed.

  • Ang bahay ay malaki. (Ah-ng bakh-eye i mah-lah-kee.) — The house is big.
  • Malaki ang bahay. — The house is big.

Is there a difference between the two sentences above? Actually, yes. In the first sentence the focus is on the subject, while in the second one it is on the action.

As I promised in the previous episode, the letter ng will keep haunting you every step of your journey in Tagalog, especially because it forms the articles: ng (read nung) and ang (read ung). Their usage in a sentence somewhat differs from that of English articles (a/an, the) and learners often confuse them. To show that the noun is plural use plural articles ng mga (read nung mun-gah) and ang mga (read ung mun-gah).

Before names the singular article si (see) or the plural article sina (see-nah) is used:

  • Si Alina ay maganda. (See Alina i mah-gun-dah.) — Alina is pretty.
  • Sina Alina at Karina ay magaganda. — Alina and Karina are pretty.

Add to this endings -ng or -g and the word na that appear between two words that are related (like an adjective that modifies a noun) and the rule gets kind of messy:

  • Ang malaking bahay ay maganda. — The big house is pretty.

To form questions, often the word ba is placed right after the word you wish to emphasize—the subject or the action—or after an interrogative pronoun. It doesn't have any translation and appears just to show that the sentence is interrogative.

  • Ang bahay ba ay (or ba'y) malaki? — The house is big?

Tagalog has 3 tenses—Present, Past and Future. It would seem like a dream language—3 tenses, no conjugation—but, as always, there is a twist, and in this case it is verb forms, i.e. diefferent prefixies, suffixies and infixies attached to the root verb to form tenses, infinitives, imperatives and express active or passive voices.

There are -um- verbs, and mag- verbs, and -in- verbs, and ma-, and maka-, má-, maká, i-, -an, magpa-, pa- + -in, etc.

This system of prefixes is also used in Tagalog when saying please: paki- or maki- when added to action roots form verbs that are used for requests. The single word for "please" do not exist in Tagalog which makes being polite in this language a challenge :)

I don't know how it is for you, but for me all these details create such a mess in my head. Sure, with effort everything can be tackled and mastered, but one thing is certain—Tagalog is not the simplest language to learn (neither the hardest).

Funny thing is all this complexity of prefixies and suffixies makes it easier on the prepositions. Basically, you'll survive pretty well with one—sa that stands for in, on, at, to, from, for, into, over, through! And life is maganda again :)

Now that we know the rules, let's break them! See you in the next episode to discover how to do just that!

Hanggang sa muli! (Khang-gung sah moo-lee!) Until next time!

" Tayo like this article! Comments are welcomed! "

Discover more about Tagalog and other languages at!

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly