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Fundamental Tagalog Grammar Rules For Learners

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Filipino is a beautiful language, but it cannot be learned and mastered overnight. 

If you want to master grammar in Tagalog and speak like a native Filipino, you need to have a strong foundation. That means studying the language in-depth and learning the most basic concepts before advancing to the more difficult parts.

Well, if you want to familiarize yourself with the Filipino grammar basics, you’ve come to the right place. On this page, we’ll present you with the fundamentals of Filipino grammar, from sentence formation to pronunciation.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Filipino Table of Contents
  1. General Rules
  2. Nouns
  3. Pronouns
  4. Verbs and Tenses
  5. Adjectives
  6. Level Up Your Filipino With FilipinoPod101

1. General Rules

There are four general aspects of the Filipino language you need to be familiar with before you can begin studying the rest. Let’s start with how words are formed and connected in Filipino.

1 – Roots and Affixes

Roots and affixes are the main ingredients of Tagalog words. Affixes are added to roots to change the meaning or aspect of a word, particularly of verbs.

The affix -in, for instance, can be added to the verb root kain (eat), to change it to its past or imperative form.

RootPastImperative
kainkinainkainin

Some Tagalog root words can also be combined to craft a new word.

araw (day) + gabi (night)araw-gabi (day and night)

New words can also be formed by repeating certain roots. In this case, a hyphen is used as a separator.

isa (one)isa-isa (one by one)
gaya (imitate)gaya-gaya (a person who imitates)
halo (mix)halo-halo (a mixture of different things)
araw (day)araw-araw (every day)

Finally, affixes can be added to the beginning, middle, or end of a root word to form new nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

  • tag-ulan (rainy season)
  • kahapon (yesterday)
  • mahangin (windy)
  • tumawid (crossed)
  • mabenta (marketable)
  • iyakin (crybaby)

2 – Sentence Structure

Tagalog word order is a bit different from that of English, and is much simpler in a sense. For instance:

English SentenceFilipino TranslationLiteral Meaning
The car is beautiful.Maganda ang kotse.Beautiful the car.

Here, the particle marker ang is used to mark the noun that comes after it as the subject of the sentence. 

You could also say, Ang kotse ay maganda, which is a direct translation of the example. However, this particular sentence pattern is used only in formal writing and not in casual conversations.


3 – Pronunciation and Sounds

Replaceable Sounds

We’ve discussed Tagalog pronunciation in detail in one of our recent blog entries, but we haven’t yet touched on the topic of replaceable sounds. Under certain conditions, some Tagalog vowel sounds can be replaced.

The /i/ sound, for instance, can be changed to the /e/ sound:

  • lalaki (man, male) → lalake
  • hindi (no) → hinde
  • mabuti (good) → mabute
  • mabait (friendly) → mabaet
  • madami (plenty) → madame

The /e/ sound can also be changed to the /i/ sound. This usually happens when the last syllable is immediately followed by a word:

  • sige na (come on, go ahead) → sigi na

And then there’s the changing of the /o/ sound to the /u/ sound:

  • total (after all) → tutal

This also happens when the last syllable is not followed by a pause:

  • Ano pa? (What else?) → Anu pa?
  • Botika (Drugstore) → Butika

Keep in mind that the change in sound is only applied to spoken language; they keep their original spelling in written form.

Syllable Repetition

One thing that’s unique about the Filipino language is the repetition of syllables in words, particularly when conjugating verbs. The word awit (to sing), for instance, becomes aawit (will sing) in its future tense. 

The rules for syllable repetition are simple. If the syllable begins with a vowel, the first vowel alone is repeated.

amin (admit)aamin (will admit)
iwan (leave behind)iiwan (will leave behind)
uwi (go home)uuwi (will go home)

Now, if the syllable begins with a consonant, the first consonant and the first vowel are repeated.

balik (return)babalik (will return)
sayaw (dance)sasayaw (will dance)
kain (eat)kakain (will eat)

A Child Playing with Colored Wooden Blocks

Roots and affixes are the building blocks of Tagalog words.

4 – Markers

Markers play an important role in Tagalog grammar. These are short words that indicate what role a word is playing in a sentence. The three main markers are ang, ng, and sa.

The Ang Marker

The four ang markers are: ang, si, sina, and ang mga.

The ang marker is used to mark a word as the focus of a sentence. 

Matalino ang babae.The woman is smart.
Magulo ang usapan.The discussion was a mess.
May limang anak ang lalaki.The man has five children.

However, it’s not used to mark people’s names. We use the si marker for that one.

Masipag si Marco.Marco is hardworking.
Nagbabasa si Denise sa loob ng kwarto niya.Denise is reading inside her room.
Nasa opisina si Roxanne.Roxanne is in the office.

Take note that the si marker is only used to mark singular names. To indicate the names of two or more people, we use sina.

Nasa labas na sina Paul at Aileen.Paul and Aileen are already outside.
Dumating kanina sina Rudy.Rudy and company arrived earlier.
Hindi nakauwi sina JR at Lisa.JR and Lisa were not able to make it home.

What about ang mga? Well, we use this marker to mark a word that’s in its plural form.

Naglalaro ang mga bata.The kids are playing.
Nagliparan ang mga ibon.The birds have flown away.
Biglang nagsidatingan ang mga tao.The people suddenly started arriving.

The Ng Marker

The ng markers are: ng, ni, nina, and ng mga.

Ng is used to indicate possession, with the name of the possessor coming right after the marker.

bahay ng presidentehome of the president
pagkain ng pusafood of the cat
aklat ng estudyantebook of the student

It’s also used to mark a direct object that is not the focus.

Naghanap ng trabaho si Anton.Anton went looking for a job.
Bumili ng bahay ang pamilya ni Marc.Marc’s family bought a house.
Binigyan niya ako ng maraming pera.He gave me a lot of money.

The Sa Marker

The sa markers are: sa, kay, kina, and sa mga.

Sa is used to mark location, direction, future time, and the beneficiary of an action in a sentence.

LocationMay pagtitipon sa bahay ko.There’s a party at my house.
DirectionPumunta siya sa Maynila.He went to Manila.
Future timeDadating si Mico sa Martes.Mico will arrive on Tuesday.
Beneficiary of an actionNagluto siya para sa asawa niya.He cooked for his wife.

2. Nouns

Nouns are the most important words you can learn when you begin studying a language. But they can only benefit you if you know how to use them! In this section, we’ll cover a couple of basic Filipino grammar rules concerning nouns and their usage.

1 – Gender

Filipino is considered a gender-neutral language. That said, there are no equivalents for the words “he” and “she” in Tagalog.

In the following sentences, siya is used to refer to both the male subject and the female subject.

  • Siya yung sinasabi ko. (He was the one I was talking about.)
  • Umalis siya para bumili ng pagkain para sa amin. (She went to buy some food for us.)

In these examples, niya is used for the pronouns “he” and “she,” serving as a substitute for an unfocused actor.

  • Kinuha niya ang telepono ko. (He took my phone.)
  • Hinugasan niya ang kanyang mga kamay. (She washed her hands.)

2 – Plurals

In English grammar, regular nouns in their singular form are changed into their plural form by adding -s at the end of the word. In Filipino grammar, a word is made plural by placing the marker mga before the word.

EnglishFilipino
SingularPluralSingularPlural
birdbirdsibonmga ibon
carcarskotsemga kotse
treetreespunomga puno


3. Pronouns

In Filipino grammar, pronouns are categorized in the same manner that English pronouns are. However, it’s important to note that not all English pronouns have a direct equivalent in Tagalog. Tagalog pronouns are unique in that they’re divided into three groups—the same groups that are used to classify markers—ang, ng, and sa.

1 – Ang pronouns are the focus in a sentence.


EnglishFilipinoExample
“I”ako (singular first person)Ako ang nag-ayos ng problema niya.
“I am the one who fixed his problem.”
“you”ikaw (singular second person)Ikaw ang hinahanap nila.
“You are the one they are looking for.”
“he” / “she”siya (singular third person)Siya ang may pakana ng lahat.
“She is the mastermind of all this.”
“we”tayo (inclusive) / kami (exclusive) (plural first person)Nanalo tayo.
“We won.”
“you all”kayo (plural second person)Dapat pumunta kayo lahat dun.
“You all should go there.”
“they”sila (plural third person)Umuwi na sila.
“They went home already.”

2 – Ng pronouns replace unfocused nouns in a sentence.


EnglishFilipinoExample
“my” / “of me”ko (singular first person)Natupad ang kahilingan ko.
“My wish was granted.”
“your” / “of you”mo (singular second person)Nasa labas ang mga kaibigan mo. “Your friends are outside.”
“his” / “her” / “of him” / “of her”niya (singular third person)Nahanap niya ang nawawala kong aso.
“He found my lost dog.”
“our” / “of us”namin (exclusive) / natin (inclusive) (plural first person)Isinauli namin ang kotse.
“The car was returned by us.”
“your” / “of you”ninyo (plural second person)Nariyan na ang mga grado ninyo.
“Your grades are now available.”
“their” / “of them”nila (plural third person)Malayo ang opisina nila.
“Their office is quite far.”

3 – Sa indicates an unfocused direction and location in a sentence; it also indicates possession.


EnglishFilipinoExample
“me” / “my”akin (singular first person)Nasa akin ang anak mo.
“Your daughter is with me.”
“you” / “your”iyo (singular second person)Tatawag ako sa iyo bukas.
“I am going to call you tomorrow.”
“him” / “his” / “her” / “hers”kanya (singular third person)Nasa kanya ang mikropono.
“The microphone is with him.”
“us” / “our”amin (exclusive) / atin (inclusive) (plural first person)Amin ito.
“This is ours.”
“you” / “your”inyo (plural second person)Sa inyo yata ito.
“This is probably yours.”
“them” / “their”kanila (plural third person)Kanila na lang yang pagkain.
“Give the food to them.”

4 – Kita

In instances when “I” (ko) acts as the doer and “you” (ka) functions as the object, the pronoun kita is used. The best example is the statement, Mahal kita (“I love you”), or literally, “You are loved by me.” 

Here are more examples where kita (“I…you”) is used:

  • Nakita kita sa TV. (I saw you on TV.)
    Lit. “You were seen on TV by me.”
  • Tinatawag kita kanina. (I was calling you earlier.)
    Lit. “You were called by me earlier.”
  • Kaibigan kita. (You are my friend.)
  • Tuturuan kita. (I will teach you.)
  • Bibigyan kita ng pabuya. (I will give you a reward.)

A Guy Whispered Something to a Girl

Tuturuan kita ng Filipino. (“I will teach you Filipino.”)


4. Verbs and Tenses

Verbs are arguably the most difficult aspect of Tagalog grammar. Non-Tagalog speakers might find them complicated at first as they don’t work the same way that English verbs do. The good news is  that, in Filipino grammar, tenses work pretty much the same way as those in English. 

Basically, Tagalog verbs are made up of a verb root and an affix. In order to change the meaning or tense of the verb, an affix can be added to the beginning, middle, or end of the verb root.

1 – Verb Groups

Tagalog verbs are grouped according to how they’re conjugated. They can either be mag-, ma-, um-, in-, or i- verbs. 

Below are examples of how words are conjugated in each group:

-Mag Verb

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
aral (to study)nag-aral (studied)nag-aaral (studying)mag-aaral (will study)mag-aral (study)

-Ma Verb

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
kinig (to listen)nakinig (listened)nakikinig (listening)makikinig (will listen)makinig (listen)

-Um Verb

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
kain (to eat)kumain (ate)kumakain (eating)kakain (will eat)kumain (eat)

-In Verb

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
tawag (to call)tumawag (called)tumatawag (calling)tatawag (will call)tumawag (call)

-I Verb

Root VerbPastPresentFutureImperative
inom (to drink)uminom (was drank)iniinom (being drank)iinumin (will be drank)inumin (drink)

2 – Verb Repetition

Tagalog verbs can be repeated when expressing a prolonged action. This is a unique characteristic of Filipino grammar. When verbs are repeated in this manner, the two words are linked by nang.

Kain nang kain si Raul.Raul keeps on eating.
Sumigaw nang sumigaw si Tanya.Tanya kept on shouting.
Iyak nang iyak si Joy.Joy keeps on crying.

A Man with Plenty of Foods

Kain nang kain si Raul. (“Raul keeps on eating.”)


5. Adjectives

Adjectives are the spice of language. This section will teach you what you should know before using them yourself.

1 – Adjective-Noun Identicals

Some Tagalog adjectives are identical to nouns in both spelling and meaning, although they differ in pronunciation with the noun having a long vowel sound.

NounAdjective
buhay (life)buhay (alive)
gutom (hunger)gutom (hungry)
hirap (poverty)hirap (struggling)
pagod (tiredness)pagod (tired)
sunog (fire)sunog (burnt)

2 – Adjective Gender

There are a number of Tagalog adjectives used to describe female individuals. These words usually end in /a/.

MaleFemale
ambisyoso (ambitious)ambisyosa
bobo (stupid)boba 
bungangero (vociferous)bungangera
luku-luko (crazy)luka-luka
suplado (snobbish)suplada

3 – Degrees of Adjectives

In Tagalog grammar, adjectives are sometimes repeated when describing a noun in the intensive degree. 

  • In the superlative degree, pinaka is usually added before the word, as in pinakamaganda (the most beautiful). 
  • Meanwhile, napaka is used to describe something to an intensive degree, as in napakaganda (very beautiful). 

This can also be achieved by repeating the root word, as in magandang-maganda or ang ganda-ganda.

Take note that if the root word ends in a vowel, -ng is attached to it—but only to the first appearance of the word, and not the repetition.

batang-batavery young
basang-basavery wet
litong-litovery confused
sirang-siraextremely worn out
tuwang-tuwavery happy

On the other hand, if the root word ends in a consonant, the two words are linked by na.

atat na atatvery eager
gutom na gutomvery hungry
laos na laosvery obsolete
malinis na malinisvery clean
pagod na pagodvery tired

A Woman Thinking Something while Studying

Litong-lito ka na ba? Bakit hindi mo subukan ang FilipinoPod101?
(“Are you very confused already? Why don’t you try FilipinoPod101?”)

6. Level Up Your Filipino With FilipinoPod101

These are just some of the basic concepts of Tagalog grammar. There is definitely a lot more to the Tagalog language than these foundational rules. If you want to take things to another level, FilipinoPod101 is here for you.

There are free resources available to you on FilipinoPod101.com, but if you want to benefit from exclusive lessons and lesson materials, become a Premium member today. If you sign up now, you’ll get instant access to some exclusive materials that will help you in your Tagalog learning journey. Some of the things you’ll get to enjoy are the exclusive lessons from our Lesson Library, interactive lesson quizzes, and the MyTeacher feature that lets you have your own personal teacher who will provide you with a professional assessment and a personalized learning program.

That’s it for this post. If you have any questions about grammar in Tagalog, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section!

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