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Let’s Learn the Basics of Tagalog Sentence Structure!

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Any Filipino who grew up in the 80s would be familiar with Barok, one of the most popular Pinoy comic book characters at that time. His character was similar to those in America’s The Flintstones, but instead of speaking like Fred or Barney, he spoke like Tarzan. And you know what that’s like—words jumbled and all.

In the Philippines, a person who can’t speak straight Tagalog or English is labeled as someone who is Barok magsalita (one who speaks like Barok).

That is why it’s crucial to learn the proper Tagalog sentence structure. For one, it helps your readers or listeners understand the simplest sentences you’re trying to convey (not to mention it will keep you from being nicknamed Barok).

But don’t you worry, because if there’s one thing about Filipino grammar that’s not too difficult to learn, it’s Tagalog word order. What most learners of the Filipino language love is its flexibility when it comes to word order. You’ll find out what I mean later on when we get to the lesson proper.

For now, let’s get to the basics of Filipino sentence structure first.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Filipino Table of Contents
  1. An Overview of Tagalog Word Order
  2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object
  3. Filipino Word Order with Prepositional Phrases
  4. Word Order with Modifiers
  5. Transforming a Regular Sentence into a Question
  6. Translation Exercises
  7. FilipinoPod101 Will Help Ease the Confusion

1. An Overview of Tagalog Word Order

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The most common sentence structure used in the English language is S-V-O (Subject-Verb-Object). It’s acceptable to use the same word order in Filipino, which is what many beginners do. However, when it comes to spoken Filipino, using S-V-O will result in the speaker sounding awkward. Let’s take this sentence for example: 

 S       V     O

“I am studying Filipino.”

If you translate this into Tagalog, you will get: Ako ay nag-aaral ng Filipino

Now, this one is grammatically correct, but when spoken, it should be structured as:

V                S            O

“Studying     I     Filipino.”  →  Direct Translation

Nag-aaral ako ng Filipino.

That said, word order in Tagalog is primarily V-S-O, and S-V-O is considered an inverted form (Kabalikang Anyo in Tagalog). But then, it also follows the V-O-S structure

One very important thing you need to understand about Tagalog, though, is that it doesn’t always follow the subject-predicate structure. In the English language, the object within a sentence is always different from the subject. In Filipino, however, a word that follows a direct marker, like si or ang, is the subject. This means that the object can also function as the subject. Here’s an example:

 S          V         O

“Julia is studying Filipino.”

Si Julia ay nag-aaral ng Filipino.

Let’s translate this into Filipino using the V-S-O pattern.

V                      S            O

“Studying        Julia      Filipino.”  →  Direct Translation

Nag-aaral si Julia ng Filipino.

Now, let’s try using the V-O-S pattern instead.

V                      O            S

“Studying        Filipino     Julia.”

Nag-aaral ng Filipino si Julia.

Notice that in the S-V-O example, the sentence uses the word ay between the subject (Julia) and the verb (nag-aaral). It’s long been thought (and taught) that ay is the copula “to be.” More recent sources, however, say that ay is more of a replacement for a comma or a slight pause. The same sources say that it can’t be a verb since it can appear in a sentence along with other verbs, although in most cases, it seems that it’s the direct translation of the verb “is.” 

Keep in mind, too, that ay only appears in the S-V-O form of the sentence (which, by the way, is viewed as formal or literary). Here are a few examples:

  • “The child is playing.”

Ang bata AY naglalaro.

  • “Butch is drinking.”

Si Butch AY umiinom.

  • “Kobe is sleeping.”

Si Kobe AY natutulog.

  • “The lady is sewing.”

Ang ale AY nananahi.

    Need a dictionary for this lesson? The FilipinoPod101 Dictionary is one of the most complete free Filipino-English dictionaries online!

2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object

Compared to the English language, word order in Filipino is more flexible. In fact, you can construct certain sentences in up to six different ways. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the following sentence:

“The man gave the woman some money.”

There are six different ways you can write or say this sentence in Filipino. Each of these sentences conveys the same meaning, and they all include the same grammatical components. And yet, as you can see, the words are ordered differently.

  • Nagbigay ng pera sa babae ang lalaki. 
  • Nagbigay ng pera ang lalaki sa babae.
  • Nagbigay sa babae ng pera ang lalaki.
  • Nagbigay sa babae ang lalaki ng pera.
  • Nagbigay ang lalaki sa babae ng pera.
  • Nagbigay ang lalaki ng pera sa babae.

Here, you can see that the verb (nagbigay) is always in the initial position, but the order of the rest of the words is adjustable. This shows how flexible Tagalog can be!

Woman Balancing a Ball in the Curve of Her Back

Did you say flexible?

Let’s try a simpler sentence this time. 

“I study Filipino.” 

This can be translated in a couple of ways:

S                V O

  • Ako ay nag-aaral ng Filipino.

V                 S         O

  • Nag-aaral ako ng Filipino.

Both of these translations are correct, but in normal conversations, you would usually use the second example: Nag-aaral ako ng Filipino.

Example: Nag-aaral ako ng Filipino ngayon sa FilipinoPod101. (“I am currently studying Filipino via FilipinoPod101.”)

3. Filipino Word Order with Prepositional Phrases

When it comes to sentences with prepositional phrases, the order of the words is similar to that in English. Let’s take the sentence below for example:

  • Place Preposition. “He studies at home.” (Nag-aaral siya ng Filipino sa bahay.)
  • Time Preposition. “He studies in the evening.” (Nag-aaral siya ng Filipino sa gabi.)
  • Preposition of Manner. “He studies with his friend.” (Nag-aaral siya ng Filipino kasama ang kaibigan niya.)

Based on the examples, you can see that the preposition is placed AFTER the object. This is how the words are ordered in conversations. But in writing, the preposition can be placed BEFORE the object as shown in the following examples:

  • Place Preposition. “He studies Filipino at home.” (Nag-aaral siya sa bahay ng Filipino.)
  • Time Preposition. “He studies Filipino in the evening.” (Nag-aaral siya sa gabi ng Filipino.)
  • Preposition of Manner. “He studies Filipino with his friend.” (Nag-aaral siya kasama ang kaibigan niya ng Filipino.)

Question: Can the preposition/prepositional phrase be placed at the BEGINNING of the sentence? Let’s see.

  • Place Preposition. “He studies Filipino at home.” (Sa bahay siya nag-aaral ng Filipino.)
  • Time Preposition. “He studies Filipino in the evening.” (Sa gabi siya nag-aaral ng Filipino.)
  • Preposition of Manner. “He studies Filipino with his friend.” (Kasama niya ang kaibigan niyang nag-aaral ng Filipino.)

Answer: ABSOLUTELY! In fact, the most natural way to say the given example sentences in Tagalog is by placing the preposition/prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence. 

4. Word Order with Modifiers

Modifiers have many functions, including clarifying, qualifying, or limiting a particular word in a sentence to add emphasis or detail. These grammatical elements are often in the form of adjectives and adverbs. 

In Tagalog grammar, a modifier can either be an adjective or an adverb depending on the word it’s modifying. For instance, if the word being modified in a sentence is a noun, then the modifier used is an adjective. If, on the other hand, the word being modified is a verb, the modifier is an adverb.

Take the word mabuti, for instance, which means “good.”

It can be used to describe a noun, like estudyante (“student”): estudyanteng mabuti (“good student”). 

In this sentence, mabuti functioned as an adjective.

It can be used to describe verbs, too. You can say: nag-aral nang mabuti (“studied well”). 

Here, mabuti now functions as an adverb.

In Tagalog, modifiers can appear either before or after the subject, but what plays a huge part here are the linkers na and –ng. Whenever you see these enclitics in a sentence, it means modification has taken place.

In these examples, the modifier appears before the subject:

  • mabait na estudyante (“kind/good student”)
  • matalinong estudyante (“bright student”)
  • masunuring estudyante (“obedient student”)

We can also place the modifier after the subject:

  • estudyanteng mabait (“kind/good student”)
  • estudyanteng matalino (“bright student”)
  • estudyanteng masunurin (“obedient student”)

As you’ve noticed, the meaning of the phrases didn’t change even if the position of the modifiers did.

A Man Holding an A+ Assignment

Matalinong estudyante. (“Bright student.”)

Oh, and before anything else, let’s talk about the markers na and ng for a second. Actually, -ng is simply a modified form of na. It’s used to replace na if the word that comes before it ends in a vowel. But what if na follows a word ending in the letter n? If that’s the case, we drop the n from ng so that it now becomes g. We use na if the word it follows ends in a consonant. 

We can see some of these rules applied in the recent examples, but let’s check out some more:

Noun + Linker + ModifierModifier + Linker + NounTranslation
lupang hiniranghinirang na lupa“chosen land”
asong maliitmaliit na aso“small dog”
bangkang papelpapel na bangka“paper boat”
balong malalimmalalim na balon“deep well”
payong na bagobagong payong“new umbrella”

Now, let’s try it with some verbs:

Verb + Linker + ModifierModifier + Linker + VerbTranslation
umiiyak na batabatang umiiyak“crying child”
lumilipad na ibonibong lumilipad“flying bird”
kumakantang babaekumakantang babae“singing lady”
tumutuklaw na ahasahas na tumutuklaw“striking snake”
tumatakbong sundalosundalong tumatakbo“running soldier”

Clear? Good. Now, let’s see how a regular sentence can be transformed into a question.

5. Transforming a Regular Sentence into a Question

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In the Tagalog language, there is one go-to word for forming interrogative sentences. That word is ba. This marker is actually one of the several untranslatable Tagalog words. If you want to change a sentence from the simple or imperative forms to the interrogative form, you simply add the word ba. Let’s try it with some sentences.

  • Simple Form: Nag-aaral si Arlene ng Filipino. (“Arlene is studying Filipino.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Nag-aaral ba si Arlene ng Filipino? (“Is Arlene studying Filipino?”)
  • Imperative Form: Mag-aral ka ng Filipino. (“Go and study Filipino.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Mag-aaral ka ba ng Filipino? (“Are you going to study Filipino?”)

Ba is added either at the end of the sentence, or after the verb or the noun.

In the following examples, ba is positioned at the end of the sentence.

  • Simple Form: Nag-aaral ka. (“You are studying.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Nag-aaral ka ba? (“Are you studying?”)
  • Imperative Form: Mag-aral ka. (“Go and study.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Mag-aaral ka ba? (“Are you going to study?”)

What’s unique about the way Filipinos communicate is that they can do so even with just a single word (sometimes even with no words at all!). Let’s take this scenario, for example. 

A man just got home and asked his wife if their dog (who wasn’t feeling well) finally decided to eat.

Husband: Kumain ba? (“Did she eat?”) 

Wife: Oo. (“Yes.”)

If the husband only said Kumain? It would still be a valid sentence and would be understood as Kumain ba?

It gets crazier with this typical exchange by the elevator.

Man 1: Bababa ba? (“Is it going down?”)

Man 2: Bababa. (“It is going down.”)

Golly! That’s seven successive instances of a single syllable!

A Little Girl Counting on Her Fingers

Seven syllables. Did I count that right?

It’s not all the time, though, that ba is necessary. Just like in most languages, you can just add a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence to turn it into a question, particularly if the question has a tone of surprise to it.

  • Simple Form: Nag-aaral si Arlene ng Filipino. (“Arlene is studying Filipino.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Nag-aaral si Arlene ng Filipino? (“Arlene is studying Filipino?”)
  • Imperative Form: Mag-aral ka ng Filipino. (“Go and study Filipino.”)
  • Interrogative Form: Mag-aaral ka ng Filipino? (“You’re going to study Filipino?”)
A Man Looking Surprised at a Paper He’s Reading

Pumasa ako sa Filipino? (“I passed Filipino?”)

6. Translation Exercises

In this section, we’re going to apply what we’ve learned about Tagalog sentence structure so far. Again, there are several ways to arrange words in a Filipino sentence, but let’s just use the one that’s often used in casual conversations.

1. I study. ____________________

2. I study Tagalog. ____________________

3. I study Tagalog every day .____________________

4. I study Tagalog every day using FilipinoPod101. ____________________

5. I study Tagalog every day at home using FilipinoPod101. ____________________

6. I study Tagalog with my friend every day at home using FilipinoPod101. ____________________

Woman Using a Translation App on Her Phone

Okay, Siri, please translate…Oh, wait, you’re not Siri.

ANSWER:

1. I study. Nag-aaral ako.

2. I study Tagalog. Nag-aaral ako ng Tagalog.

3. I study Tagalog every day. Araw-araw akong nag-aaral ng Tagalog. (Remember how prepositional phrases should go at the beginning of the sentence?)

4. I study Tagalog every day with FilipinoPod101. Araw-araw akong nag-aaral ng Tagalog gamit ang FilipinoPod101.

5. I study Tagalog every day at home with FilipinoPod101. Araw-araw akong nag-aaral sa bahay ng Tagalog gamit ang FilipinoPod101.

6.  I study Tagalog with my friend every day at home with FilipinoPod101. Araw-araw akong nag-aaral sa bahay ng Tagalog gamit ang FilipinoPod101 kasama ang kaibigan ko.

7. FilipinoPod101 Will Help Ease the Confusion

We did our best to make this guide as simple and easy as possible for you. However, we also believe that one short post about Tagalog sentence structure can only do so much. But that’s why FilipinoPod101 is here, isn’t it? 

With FilipinoPod101, you can learn more than just how to arrange words in sentences. If you sign up today, you’ll gain exclusive access to a number of learning resources you won’t find elsewhere. This includes an introduction to the Filipino language, a few key Filipino phrases, and unique articles designed to help you learn Tagalog in a fun and interesting way.

And then there’s the Premium PLUS program that’s designed especially for students who want to develop their Filipino writing and speaking skills in just a short period of  time. What are you waiting for? If you want to learn more about Filipino sentence structure or polish your Tagalog conversation skills, don’t think twice about signing up at FilipinoPod101 today!

What are your first impressions about Tagalog word order and sentence structure? Let us know in the comments!

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