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Learn the Basics of Filipino Verb Conjugation

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We’ve already talked about how to tell time in Filipino. We’ve studied the verb in Tagalog, as well. If you’re still wondering why you need to learn both, well, this article might be able to enlighten you a little bit. In this lesson, we’re going to explore a subject that deals with both time and action: conjugation.

Conjugation deals with verb tenses. Verb tenses tell listeners what time period a sentence is referring to: past, present, or future. Tagalog conjugation, in particular, can be quite complex, but that’s the reason we’re here—to help you learn about verb conjugation in Filipino in an easy and enjoyable way.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in Filipino Table of Contents
  1. What is Conjugation?
  2. Verb Groups
  3. Irregular Verbs and Their Conjugations
  4. Quiz Time!
  5. FilipinoPod101 Will Help Eliminate any Confusion

1. What is Conjugation?

Top Verbs

In grammar, conjugation refers to the process of how a verb transforms, particularly for the purpose of expressing tense, person, and mood. Unlike in English, conjugating verbs using Tagalog is quite unique in the sense that Filipino verbs are morphologically complex and are conjugated in terms of their progressiveness, rather than their tense. I know that’s a lot to take in right now, but you’ll understand things a lot better once we get deeper into the discussion. 

Before we start studying how to conjugate Tagalog verbs, I would suggest that you first take a look at our post on the 100 most practical Filipino verbs, which covers the basics of pandiwa or “verbs.” 

And now, let’s take a look at how Tagalog verbs are conjugated according to verb groups.

2. Verb Groups

More Essential Verbs

Tagalog verbs can be grouped depending on how they’re conjugated. As mentioned in our Filipino Verbs article, the easiest way to understand and learn Filipino verb conjugation is to memorize the common affixes (panlapi) used in Tagalog grammar. These affixes are mag-, ma-, um-, in-, and i-, and Tagalog verbs can be grouped according to these affixes.

Tagalog verbs can also be distinguished either as actor-focus verbs or object-focus verbs. Don’t worry, because we’ll get to learn and understand these two verb groups, as well, as we go through the verb affixes we mentioned above.

1 – MAG Verbs

MAG verbs are among the most commonly used Tagalog verbs. They are actor-focus verbs, and are so-called because they’re formed by adding the prefix mag- to the beginning of the verb. The prefix mag- is used if the verb is in the future and imperative forms. 

Let’s take a look at some examples of common MAG verbs:

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
aral (“to study”)nag-aral (“studied”)nag-aaral (“studying”)mag-aaral (“will study”)mag-aral (“study”)
basa (“to read”)nagbasa (“read”)nagbabasa (“reading”)magbabasa (“will read”)magbasa (“read”)
salita (“to talk,” “to speak”)nagsalita (“talked,” “spoke”)nagsasalita (“talking,” “speaking”)magsasalita (“will talk,” “will speak”)magsalita (“talk,” “speak”)
sulat (“to write”)nagsulat (“wrote”)nagsusulat (“writing”)magsusulat (“will write”)magsulat (“write”)
saulo (“to memorize”)nagsaulo (“memorized”)nagsasaulo (“memorizing”)magsasaulo (“will memorize”)magsaulo (“memorize”)

Right now, you may be wondering, “How do I conjugate MAG verbs?” Let us show you.

Notice in the table above that in the four different tenses, the root verb changes form simply by adopting affixes.

Let’s take the verb aral, or “study,” for example.

To form the future tense of aral, we simply attach the prefix MAG- to the verb and repeat the first syllable, so that it becomes mag-aaral. Keep in mind that a hyphen or gitling is required between mag– and any verb that begins with a vowel.

For the imperative form of the verb, mag– is attached to the verb, and the original form is retained. 

So if you want to tell someone to study, you say: Mag-aral ka nang mabuti. (“Study well.”)

A Teacher Helping Her Students Study

Mag-aral ka nang mabuti. (“Study well.”)

To form the present tense, replace MAG- with NAG-, and again, repeat the first syllable of the verb. In this case, aral becomes nag-aaral.

The same goes for the past tense, except that you no longer have to repeat the first syllable: nag-aral

2 – MA Verbs

After the MAG verbs are the MA verbs, which are also actor-focus verbs. And just like MAG verbs, MA verbs are formed by attaching a prefix, which in this case is ma-, to the verb.

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
kinig (“to listen”)nakinig (“listened”)nakikinig (“listening”)makikinig (“will listen”)makinig (“listen”)
nood (“to watch”)nanood (“watched”)nanonood (“watching”)manonood (“will watch”)manood (“watch”)
tulog (“to sleep”)natulog (“slept”)natutulog (“sleeping”)matutulog (“will sleep”)matulog (“sleep”)
ligo (“to bathe”)naligo (“bathed”)naliligo (“bathing”)maliligo (“will bathe”)maligo (“bathe”)
pasyal (“to stroll”)namasyal (“strolled”)namamasyal (“strolling”)mamamasyal (“will stroll”)mamasyal (“stroll”)

Conjugating MA verbs is as easy as conjugating MAG verbs since the rules are similar. 

Let’s look at the Filipino conjugation of the verb nood, or “watch.” To conjugate it in the future tense, all you need to do is attach the prefix ma- to the verb and repeat the first syllable no-. Nood will now become manonood.

Simply by attaching ma- to the verb and retaining the original form of the root verb, you’ll be able to come up with the imperative form, which is manood.

For the past and present tenses, na- is added as a prefix. Once again, the first syllable is repeated in forming the present tense, but not in forming the past tense. That said, the present tense of nood is nanonood, while its past tense is nanood.

*Note: For some MA verbs that begin with the letter “p,” “p” is changed to “m” when conjugating. Pasyal, for instance, becomes namasyal (past), namamasyal (present), mamamasyal (future), and mamasyal (imperative). The same goes for the verb patay (“to die”), which is conjugated as namatay (past tense) instead of napatay, which is actually the past tense of the same verb in the IN form.

Speaking of which, some verbs can be both UM verbs and IN verbs, although others can only be MAG verbs and IN verbs, depending on the focus.

3 – UM Verbs

UM verbs are actor-focus verbs. They’re formed with the help of the infix um, which is placed within the verb to construct the past, present, and infinitive forms of the verb. Take a look at the Filipino verb conjugation table below for some examples of UM verbs.

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
kain (“to eat”)kumain (“ate”)kumakain (“eating”)kakain (“will eat”)kumain (“eat”)
kanta (“to sing”)kumanta (“sang”)kumakanta (“singing”)kakanta (“will sing”)kumanta (“sing”)
tawa (“to laugh”)tumawa (“laughed”)tumatawa (“laughing”)tatawa (“will laugh”)tumawa (“laugh”)
higa (“to lie down”)humiga (“laid down”)humihiga (“lying down”)hihiga (“will lie down”)humiga (“lie down”)
sigaw (“to shout”)sumigaw (“shouted”)sumisigaw (“shouting”)sisigaw (“will shout”)sumigaw (“shout”)

The rules for conjugating UM verbs are a bit different. Let’s look at the verb tawa (“to laugh”), for instance. By observing the table above, you’ll see that the past and infinitive forms of the verb are the same—tumawa. The infix is inserted after the first letter of the word.

To form its future tense, the infix is not added, but the first syllable is repeated. In this case, tawa becomes tatawa.

Now, to form the present tense of the verb, take the future tense first and insert the infix um after the first letter of the word. This time, tatawa (future tense) becomes tumatawa (present tense).

Keep in mind that to form the future tense of an UM verb whose first syllable ends in a consonant (such as in the case of kanta, where the first syllable is kan-), only the first two letters are to be repeated. The future tense of kanta, therefore, is kakanta and NOT kankanta.

4 – IN Verbs

Unlike the first three verb groups, which are actor-focus verbs, IN verbs are object-focus verbs. This means that in a sentence, the focus is on the object and not the actor. Let’s take a look at the table below to see how IN verbs are formed:

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
kain (“to eat”)kinain (“ate”)kinakain (“eating”)kakainin (“will eat”)kainin (“eat”)
basag (“to break”)binasag (“broke”)binabasag (“breaking”)babasagin (“will break”)basagin (“break”)
sabi (“to say”)sinabi (“said”)sinasabi (“saying”)sasabihin (“will say”)sabihin (“say”)
pilit (“to insist,” “to force”)pinilit (“insisted,” “forced”)pinipilit (“insisting,” “forcing”)pipilitin (“will insist,” “will force”)pilitin (“insist,” “force”)
tawag (“to call”)tinawag (“called”)tinatawag (“calling”)tatawagin (“will call”)tawagin (“call”)

Conjugating IN verbs isn’t that complicated. Let’s start with the future tense using the verb basag. To conjugate basag to its future tense, simply repeat the first syllable, ba-, and add –in as a suffix so that basag becomes babasagin

In some instances, -hin is added instead of -in, such as in the case of sabi, which in the future tense is sasabihin. The same is true for basa (“to read”), which is babasahin in the future tense.

For the imperative form, the rule is to simply add -in as a suffix, transforming basag to basagin.

To conjugate basag to its present tense, begin with the future tense, which is basagin, and then add IN between the first and second letters. Next, remove the suffix -in, transforming the word to binabasag. You can also get the same result by repeating the first syllable and then inserting IN between the first and second letters.

IN is simply added right after the first letter of the root verb to transform it to its past tense. Basag then becomes binasag.

The rules are different for IN verbs starting with the letter “L” when conjugating in present and past tenses. Take the word linis, for example. To transform this to the present tense, the first syllable is repeated and ni- is attached as a prefix so that linis becomes nililinis. For the past tense, ni- is simply added as a prefix to the root form: nilinis.

5 – I Verbs

I verbs are object-focus verbs like IN verbs, although some of them can be actor-focus verbs, as well. Here’s a table of some common I verbs:

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
inom (“to drink”)ininom (“was drank”)iniinom (“being drunk”)iinumin (“will be drank”)inumin (“drink”)
hinto (“to stop”)inihinto (“was stopped”)inihihinto (“being stopped”)ihihinto (“will be stopped”)ihinto (“stop”)
bigay (“to give”)ibinigay (“was given”)binibigay (“being given”)ibibigay (“will be given”)ibigay (“give”)
guhit (“to draw”)iginuhit (“was drawn”)iginuguhit (“being drawn”)iguguhit (“will be drawn”)iguhit (“draw”)
deklara (“to declare”)idineklara (“was declared”)idinideklara (“being declared”)idideklara (“will be declared”)ideklara (“declare”)

Let’s take a look at how I verbs are conjugated. Let’s use the verb deklara (“to declare”). Like some I verbs, deklara can also be a MAG verb.

Here’s deklara as a MAG verb:

  • Magdedeklara ang punong-guro na walang pasok bukas. 
    “The school principal will declare that classes are suspended for tomorrow.”

In this sentence, the focus is on the actor, which is the punong-guro, or the “principal.”

Now, here’s deklara as an I verb:

  • Idedeklara ng punong-guro na walang pasok bukas. 
    “It will be declared by the school principal that classes will be suspended for tomorrow.”
Principal Standing with Arms Crossed, in Front of Students

“That moment the principal says there are no classes tomorrow.”

This time, the focus is on the object, making the verb deklara both a MAG verb and an I verb.

So, how do we conjugate I verbs? Let’s use the verb guhit (“to draw”). To form the future tense of this word, repeat the first syllable of the root verb and attach the prefix i- so that guhit (“to draw”) becomes iguguhit (“will be drawn”).

    Ang larawan ni Rose ay iguguhit ni Jake. 
    “Anna’s portrait will be drawn by Jake.”

The imperative form is the simplest since you only need to attach i- to the root verb. The imperative for guhit, then, is iguhit.

    Iguhit mo nga ang mukha ng aso sa isang pirasong papel. 
    Draw the dog’s face on a piece of paper.”

3. Irregular Verbs and Their Conjugations

Negative Verbs

So, how do you conjugate Filipino verbs that are irregular?

In the English language, irregular verbs are verbs that don’t follow the simple rule of attaching “-d” or “-ed” to the end of the word to construct its past tense. In Tagalog grammar, verbs are not categorized in such a manner, although most English irregular verbs, if not all, have an equivalent word in Filipino. 

Take the word “drank,” for instance. It’s the past tense of “drink,” and in Filipino, it’s translated either as uminom (“UM” actor-focus verb) or ininom (“IN” object-focus verb). 

With this in consideration, it’s clear that in this case, the irregularity of the verb “drank” in the Filipino language is not simply in the spelling, but in the usage. Let’s use it in a sentence for you to better understand what I mean:

    Uminom ako ng kape. 
    “I drank some coffee.”

Uminom, in this sentence, functions as an actor-focus verb. The same is true for its English equivalent, “drank.”

Let’s compare it to this sentence:

    Ininom ko ang kape. 
    “I drank the coffee.”

Ininom, in this sentence, is an object-focus verb, while its English equivalent “drank” remains an actor-focus verb.

Man Drinking Coffee from the Coffee Pot

“I take my coffee very seriously.”

Here are more examples, using some of the most common irregular English verbs with their conjugation and their equivalent in Tagalog:

1 – Awake

Root VerbSimple PastPast Participle
gising (“awake”)nagising (“awoke”)nagising, ginising (“awoken”)

Simple Past

    Nagising ako nang may tuwa sa aking puso. 
    “I awoke with joy in my heart.”

Past Participle

    Nagising (actor-focus) ako sa mahimbing na pagkakatulog. 
    “I have awoken from a deep sleep.”

    Ginising (object-focus) ako ng ingay. 
    “The noise has awoken me.”

2 – Bite

Root VerbSimple PastPast Participle
kagat (“bite”)kinagat (“bit”)nakagat, kinagat (“bitten”)

Simple Past

    Kinagat ko ang aking mga labi. 
    “I bit my lips.”

Past Participle

    Nakagat siya ng alaga niyang pusa. 
    “She was bitten by her pet cat.”

    Kinagat ako ng ahas. 
    “I was bitten by a snake.”

3 – Break

Root VerbSimple PastPast Participle
sira (“break”)sinira, nasira, sumira (“broke”)nasira, sinira, sira (“broken”)

Simple Past

    Sinira niya ang laruan ni Stephan. 
    “He broke Stephan’s toy.”

    Siya ang sumira ng tablet. 
    “He was the one who broke the tablet.”

    Nasira lang siya nang basta-basta. 
    “It just broke.”

Past Participle

    Nasira ang sasakyan niya dahil sa baha. 
    “His car had broken down because of the flood.”

    Sinira nila ang mga panuntunan. 
    “They had broken the rules.”

    Matagal nang sira iyan. 
    “It’s been broken for some time now.”

4 – Eat

Root VerbSimple PastPast Participle
kain (“eat”)kinain, kumain (“ate”)nakakain, nakain, kakakain (“eaten”)

Simple Past

    Kinain niya ang natirang ulam. 
    “He ate the leftover food.”

    Kumain kami ng halo-halo. 
    “We ate halo-halo.” →Nasira ang sasakyan niya dahil sa baha.

Past Participle

    Nakakain ka na ba nito? 
    “Have you ever eaten this?”

    Nakain si Jonah ng malaking isda! 
    “Jonah was eaten by a huge fish!”

    Salamat! Kakakain lang namin. 
    “Thanks! We’ve just eaten.”

5 – Forget

Root VerbSimple PastPast Participle
limot (“forget”)nakalimutan (“forgot”)nakalimot, nakalimutan (“forgotten”)

Simple Past

    Nakalimutan kong mag-agahan. 
    “I forgot to eat breakfast.”

Past Participle

    Nakalimot ka na ba?
    “Have you forgotten?”

    Nakalimutan ko ang pangalan niya.
    “I have forgotten her name.”

4. Quiz Time!

Here’s a five-item quiz for you to apply what you’ve just learned about Filipino conjugation. You can then refer to the answers and their explanations in the next section.

1.) ___________ ni Joey ang regalong natanggap.
(“Joey opened the gift she received.”)

Choices: a.) Binubuksan b.) Binuksan c.) Bubuksan d.) Buksan

2.) ___________ si Joshua nang limang taon bilang presidente ng paaralan.
(“Joshua will serve as president of the school for five years.”)

Choices: a.) Silbi b.) Magsisilbi c.) Nagsilbi d.) Nagsisilbi

3.) Huwag mong ___________ ang dalawang mama na nag-aaway.
(“Don’t try to pacify the two men who are fighting.”)

Choices: a.) inawat b.) aawatin c.) inaawat d.) awatin

4.) ___________ na lang ako ng sine.
(“I will just watch a movie instead.”)

Choices: a.) Manonood b.) Nanood c.) Manood d.) Nanonood

5.) Si Andrew ay ___________ habang naliligo.
(“Andrew is singing while taking a bath.”)

Choices: a.) kakanta b.) kumanta c.) kanta d.) kumakanta

Man with Hands Up in Victory After Boxing Match

“I don’t always ace my quiz…just kidding, yes I do!”

Now, let’s see how well you did.

1-  “Joey opened the gift she received.”

What was your answer for the first item? If you answered B (Binuksan), then you’re correct! The verb “opened is in the past tense, and its equivalent in Filipino is binuksan, which in this case is an IN verb.

Answer: Binuksan

2- “Joshua will serve as president of the school for five years.”

The auxiliary verb “will” + the verb “serve” indicates that the action is going to take place in the future. It’s also clear that the choices are all MAG verbs because of the prefixes mag- and nag-. But since the verb is in the future tense, nagsilbi and nagsisilbi are out of the question. Silbi is also not a valid choice since it’s in the root form. That leaves us with magsisilbi, or “will serve.”

Answer: Magsisilbi

3- “Don’t try to pacify the two men who are fighting.”

Pacify” in this sentence is awat in Filipino, and is in its imperative form. The choices are inawat, aawatin, inaawat, and awatin, which belong to the IN verb category. 

According to the rules for conjugating an IN verb to its imperative form, we simply add the suffix -in to the root form. In this case, that’s adding -in to awat, which gives us awatin. 

Answer: awatin

4- “I will just watch a movie instead.”

“Will watch” speaks of a future action. To find the correct answer, let’s first check which verb group the choices belong to. In this case, all of the choices are MA verbs: manonood, nanood, manood, and nanonood. 

We’re only interested in figuring out which of these four choices is the future tense of “watch” or nood. Going back to our rules for conjugating a MA verb to its future tense, what we need to do is attach the prefix ma- to the root verb and repeat its first syllable. That would give us ma + no + nood. The answer, therefore, is B, Manonood.

Answer: Mananood

5-  “Andrew is singing while taking a bath.”

The verb “singing” (kanta) is clearly in the present tense, while all the choices are under the UM verb category. All we need to do to find the correct answer is determine the present tense of kanta. Again, to form the present tense of an UM verb, we first conjugate it to its future tense and insert the infix um after the first letter of the word. That means repeating the first syllable ka and then adding um right after the first k. That gives us the word kumakanta.

Answer: kumakanta

5. FilipinoPod101 Will Help Eliminate any Confusion

We admit that learning Tagalog conjugation can be a real challenge, but again, that’s what FilipinoPod101 is here for. There’s still more for you to learn about verb conjugations in Filipino, and we’re here to guide you in your journey.

At FilipinoPod101, we can provide you with the tools you need to master the Filipino language. If you want to improve your vocabulary, for instance, you can check out our list of the 100 most common Tagalog words. We also have a Filipino vocabulary list that you can use in different contexts. And if you want to learn Tagalog in a fun and casual way, you can check out our blog page, as well.

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Meanwhile, if you still have questions about verb conjugation in Filipino, just let us know in the comments section below. It will be our pleasure to help you!

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