Learning Tagalog is Inspiring

This article first appeared in http://www.lingholic.com/learn-tagalog/ (written for Melvin Melchor Leal)

Do you want to make a good first impression? Either you’re planning a trip to the Philippines, will be meeting up with a Filipino friend, or simply want to learn something worthwhile during your free time, learning Tagalog is going to be a great achievement in your part. It will become an extraordinary success not because the language is very difficult to learn, but because a foreigner who learns to speak this language really impresses the genuine Filipinos. They will love you, admire, and even idolize you as you utter your very first words or, even just a word, in their ears. Hearing a foreigner speak their language tickles the heart and imprints a smile on the native speakers.

It’s time to prepare for that inspiring moment. This article will give you a glimpse of how fascinating the language is as well as basic tips in your beginning steps into the wonderful learning-Tagalog-journey.

First, let’s clear out some misconceptions. Is Tagalog the same as Filipino? You probably have heard Pilipinos talking among each other and you manage to eavesdrop… but… hey! They’re not speaking in Tagalog! It’s like some weird alien language,… but they said they’re Filipinos!

The logical explanation to that is to understand that in the Philippines, there are about 120 to 175 languages which all depends on what town, province or region you happen to be in. Among these languages, there are eight major languages which became the bases for choosing the national language. Tagalog is one of these languages. Tagalog is the language spoken of by natives who live in the Central and Southern part of Luzon, the largest of the 7107 islands in the country. Since most politicians, the lawmakers in particular, hold offices and reside in Metro Manila which is a city in Central Luzon, Tagalog became the backbone for the national language which was mandated first in the 1897 constitution.

Eventually, Pilipinos from other provinces disagreed and wanted their languages to be the chosen one. They have a good reason, though, because in actuality, only 10% of Pilipinos speak pure Tagalog. The remaining 90% speak other “mother tongue” languages which today is being emphasized and given importance in the education system of the country.

Anyway, these debates led to the formation of an amendment, a new ruling. In the 1987 Constitution, the Philippine National Language is not anymore Tagalog, but instead, Filipino. What’s the difference?

Filipino language is basically derived from Tagalog. Only, it’s an ever-evolving language. It borrowed and is continuously borrowing and even coining its own words. Some of the foreign languages who made their mark in Filipino are Spanish (ventana = “bintana” = window), English (computer  = “kompyuter”), Chinese (tao-iyoo = “toyo” =  soysauce), Arabic (selamat = “salamat” = thank you), and Malay (sedap = “sarap” = delicious). Every year, new words are added into the Filipino vocabulary so we better cope up with these terms as soon as possible!

So, why Tagalog? The richness of the Tagalog vocabulary and how it made its way into the best literary pieces in the country make it a very reasonable foundation for the national language. That’s why when Pilipinos move abroad, they bring with them their Tagalog words so that in case a fellow Pilipino comes along, whatever the province from the Philippines that fellow Pilipino may come from, they will be able to communicate. This language is slowly becoming a trend. In the United States alone, Tagalog had become the sixth most spoken language.

Learning Tagalog will not only help you win the hearts of the Pilipino people, it will also help you achieve favor from other foreigners who had been touched by its native speakers.

By now, remember to keep in mind that what you are going to be engaging about is the Tagalog language, not the more complex Filipino. After gaining better understanding of the background of this language, let’s get into the real thing.

It’s very crucial to begin with the very basic, like how babies learn to speak. They learn to make the right sounds first. The important thing to remember in learning Tagalog is to master how its vowels are pronounced. The vowels are A-E-I-O-U, similar to its English counterpart. The only difference is these letters only use the short sounds, except for “U”. A is pronounced as ă as in “ball”; E will be ĕ like in “egg”; I sounds like ĭ  in “Indian”; say O as ŏ in “octopus”; and finally, say U as ōō in “took”.  Ă, Ĕ, Ĭ, Ŏ, ŌŌ.. that’s how you do it! Great!

Now, when it comes to the consonants, the Tagalog alphabet has the same set as the English, with two additional letters. These consonants are pronounced the way you pronounce them in English. When we combine these consonant-vowel sounds, we have the Tagalog syllables or pantig. These pantig are the building blocks of the Tagalog words and we pronounce them very distinctly. For instance, in the word Mabuhay! (the Tagalog greeting which means long live!), there are three syllables, ma, bu, and hay. The first syllable is a consonant-vowel combination of “m” and “ă” sounds..then “b” with “oo” sounds, and the last syllable is a consonant-vowel-consonant mix of “h” + “ă” + “y” sounds. The resulting sounds produce Mabuhay!  Interesting, right!

So there’s your first word and wherever you meet a Pilipino, fire up some warm greetings with “Mabuhay!” Remember, syllabication is very important in Tagalog pronunciation.

Let’s try to have a glimpse into the world of Tagalog vocabulary. Basic nouns in Tagalog are usually categorized according to gender types. There are nouns that are used as reference to males like tito, lolo, kuya, tatay, ginoo, Pilipino (uncle, grandfather, brother, father, mister, male Pilipino). For females, some examples are tita, lola, ate, nanay, ginang, Pilipina (aunt, grandmother, sister, mother, madam, female Pilipino). You would notice that most nouns referring to boys, have the vowel “o”; while those referring to females have the “a” vowel. Just take note, for bOys, with “o”… for lAdies, with “a”.

Another noun classification is the di-tiyak or those common nouns which can refer to either males or females. Exampes are guro, kapatid, kaibigan (teacher, sibling, friend).

The last category, walang kasarian, is for the rest of all the other nouns which do not fall under the first three classifications.  These words refer to things, animals, food, body parts, places or events.

There is also what we call as counting nouns. Here, we simply refer to the numbers in Tagalog. Here are the first ten numbers in Tagalog (bold syllables should be stressed).

i-sa (one)

da-la-wa (two)

tat-lo (three)

a-pat (four)

li-ma (five)

a-nim (six)

pi-to (seven)

wa-lo (eight)

si-yam (s’yam) (nine)

sam-pu (ten)


Plurality and singularity in Tagalog is easy to identify. In Tagalog, we do not add –s or –es to indicate more than one noun. So that means getting rid of these “how-to-show-the-plural-form-of…” rules. We simply, very simply, use ang (ăng) for singular terms and ang mga (ăng mă-nga)for the plural. These terms are equivalent to the articles the, a and an.

Here’s how these are used:

ang is-da (the fish)

ang mga isda (the fishes)



Aside from nouns, pronouns also play a very important role in Tagalog. Common pronouns are ako, ikaw, tayo, sila, akin, sayo, atin ( I/me, you, we, they, my/mine, your/yours, our/ours). Try this one: Ikaw at ako ay masaya. (You and me are happy.)

So, how do these first few words go? Hopefully, you’re getting more interested, and more eager to grasp more. As a newbie in this language, you will be into a lot of questionings. Here are samples of pronouns used in question form. Try to use them as you start your first Tagalog conversation.

A-no (what) – Ano ang pangalan mo? (What is your name?)

Sa-an (where) – Saan ka nakatira? (Where do you live?)

Ka-i-lan (when) – Kailan tayo aalis? (When do we leave?)


How about more Tagalog nouns? Ready? Here are some of the miscellaneous nouns that you can keep in your Tagalog word bank.



a-so : dog

pu-sa : cat

ma-nok : chicken



la-ru-an : toy

pe-ra: money

pag-ka-in: food



pu-la : red

ber-de : green

di-law : yellow

a-sul : blue

li-la : violet

ka-hel : orange

i-tim : black

pu-ti : white


After getting an overview of the Tagalog nouns and pronouns, it’s now time to get to know the Tagalog verbs. Tagalog verbs are formed through root words with prefixes and suffixes. Adding these might be confusing at first, but once you get the mechanics right, people will applaud you. There are two main prefix added to verbs: nag- and mag-. “Nag” is used for verbs to indicate its past or present tense. “Mag” is added to verbs that are in the future tense. For instance, for the root word, “tanim” which means “plant”:

Nagtanim – planted

Nagtatanim – planting

Magtatanim – will plant


Tagalog verb forms also depend on its focus – is it actor or object? This should not be very hard to understand, since focus also refers to the voice – either passive or active voice. Remember your lesson in English grammar regarding sentence voice? Let’s recall. A passive voice focuses on the receiver of the action; while an active voice focuses on the doer of the action. Apply that to Tagalog verbs, and you’ll have two forms of verbs.


Example of actor focus:

Ako ay kumain ng kanin. (I ate rice)


Example of object focus:

Ang kanin ay kinain ko. (The rice was eaten by me)


Notice how the verb with root word “kain” (eat) changed its form. In the actor  focus, the verb is “kumain” while it became “kinain” in the object focus. You’ll get better understanding of these as you read, study, listen, and speak more of this language.

What better words to get acquainted next than the modifiers? Tagalog speakers are very descriptive. They can transform something which is simple into something splendid and spectacular with their choice of adjectives and adverbs. Hopefully, you’ll be one of those who will find the true richness of Tagalog as you explore its pang-uri (adjectives) and pang-abay (adverbs).

In using Tagalog adjectives, the format is usually:  adjective + na + noun if the adjective ends in a consonant and this format: adjective + –ng + noun if the adjective ends in a vowel.



Mabait na bata.  (Kind kid)


The connector na is used to link the adjective and the noun in the first sentence. The noun is bata.  The adjective that describes it is mabait  which ends in a consonant.  This is an example of using na. Here’s the next one:


Matalinong bata.  (Smart kid)


Notice that in this sentence, bata is still the noun. The word that describes it is matalino, but since it ends in a vowel, the  –ng is attached to it.


Are you still actively engaging? How about some additional info regarding Tagalog modifiers? Be careful that in speaking Tagalog, sometimes differences may happen as compared to writing in Tagalog. In conversations, usually these adjectives and adverbs are, in themselves, complete sentences already, especially when used as responses to questions. Another situation is when asked if you have done something asked of you, then you would reply that it’s “done already”. These two words is comparative to this tiny Tagalog word – na.

So you are asked, “Have you eaten already?” (Kuman ka na ba?) And you want to respond with “I’m done eating”. You would just say, “Tapos na”. Other examples:  Malinis na. (Already), Mabango na. (Smells good already)


Marvellously, a noun can also become an adjective in Tagalog by merely adding the prefix Ma-.  Take a look at these:

Root word            meaning                Tagalog adjective           meaning

Ganda                  beauty                  maganda                        beautiful

Linis                     clean                     malinis                           clean

Lusog                             health                             malusog                         healthy


Mostly, people want to talk, describe, and compare another person, place, event, or thing. To be able to make a good picture of which is good, better, and best. There are additional words to use in Tagalog:

Mas – used to compare two objects

Pinaka – for the superlative degree of comparison

Using these, “Ako ay mas matalino kaysa sa kanya” (I am smarter than him). “Ikaw ang pinamatangkad sa lahat” (You are the tallest of all).


Aside from adjectives, adverbs also play important role in the Tagalog language. Find some examples here:

Adverb of time – Ako ay nagluto kahapon. (I cooked yesterday).

Adverb of place – Sila ay nagtanim sa bukid.  (They planted in the field)

Adverb of  manner  – Ikaw ay magaling sumayaw. (You danced well)

Adverb of frequency – Kami ay laging naglilinis ng bahay. (We always clean the house)


You are slowly making good progress as we have moved from pronunciation to this next main idea. Hopefully, you’re getting more loaded with Tagalog, Tagalog, Tagalog as you go deeper into this article.

Let’s now move on to the final parts of speech … in  Tagalog!

Prepositions.. we call them pnag-ukol in Tagalog. These are very significant if you want to express more clearly your ideas in this chosen language.  The most  common pang-ukol are na, ng and  sa. Let’s learn more about these three.

Na is used to link a word to its modifier. There is no literal English translation for this little word. A phrase which takes the format of adjective + noun and the adjective ends in a consonant, needs the word na to tie the two words together. Here are some examples:

Asul na kotse (blue car)

Masarap na pagkain (delicious food)

If the adjective ends in a vowel, the word na will be replaced with the pang-ukol ng. This little word works the same way as na in an adjective phrase, only it will be attached to the adjective as a suffix instead of as a separate word. Take note of these examples:

Maraming pera (a lot of money)

Magandang binibini (beautiful lady)


The next pang-ukol sa is used to make the prepositional phrases. These phrases usually have one-word literal English translation.

Sa loob (inside)

Sa labas (outside)

Laban sa (against)

Sa kabila ng (despite)

Sa (in, on, at)


Remember the FANBOYS? These are the English conjunctions corresponding Tagalog words. These are:

sapagkat, dahil, dahil sa (for)

at, at saka (and)

pero, datapwa’t, nguni’t, subali’t (but)

kaya, kung kaya’t (so)


Once in a while, a sudden emotional outburst will come right out of your chest and will be expelled through your mouth through an interjection! Here are the most common ones:

Grabe! (Wow!) Sayang! (What a pity!) Aray! (Ouch!)


Give yourself a pat on the back… you’ve done it! You’re really learning Tagalog now. Let’s combine all of these basic parts of speech, and let’s starting building our sentences.

Here are some important reminders in sentence construction: First, a sentence in Tagalog has a predicate and a subject. These are termed as panaguri and simuno respectively. In Tagalog sentence construction, the opposite structure used in English  is the common pattern. In this style, the predicate comes first before the subject. The inverted form of sentences in English is usually used only in formal speaking and in writing.

Take a look at this example of a declarative Tagalog sentence in natural form (predicate + subject):

Malawak ang kalsada dito. (The road here is broad.)


Another important thing is this: the subject can be a noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, or even a prepositional phrase. Do you wonder how it will go? Notice these examples. The first sentences are in natural forms (in Tagalog, take note) while the second example is in the inverted form.

Noun as subjects

Mahalaga ang pagkakaisa(Unity is important.)

Ang mga dagat sa Pilipinas ay mayayaman sa iba’t ibang uri ng isda.

(The seas in the Philippines are rich in various fishes.)


Pronoun as subject

Iniwanan n’yo kami. (You have left us.)

Ako ay isang tunay na kaibigan. (I am a true friend.)


Verb as subject (underlined words)

Pinuri nila ang umawit(They praised the one who sung.)

Ang umiinom ng alak ay madalas galit.

 (The one who drinks beer is usually angry.)


Adjective as subject (underlined words)

Mapalad ang mga mapagbigay(The generous are blessed.)

Ang mga matatalino ay laging tinatanong.

(The smart ones are always asked.)


Prepositional phrase as subject (underlined words)

Maraming pumupunta sa Baguio City(Many go to Baguio City.)

Sa kagubatan ay maraming kayamanan. (There are many resources in the forest.)

Similarly, the predicate of a sentence can also be any of these parts of speech.

After learning all of these semantics and what’s right and what’s not in Tagalog, here are some practical tips for you to aid you in being more inspired as you learn more of the language. These are time-tested things to try and see how easy and fun learning Tagalog can be!

First, watch Tagalog movies. You not only learn culture, tradition, and history, you also listen to how the words are properly pronounced and the facial expressions accompanied by such Tagalog phrases or sentences. Correct word meaning is your aim so that when you talk or listen, you don’t experience misunderstanding. Although, bear with yourself because for sure, disappointments and discouragements may hinder you from focusing on this great task.

Another great thing that you can try at home is listening. Listen to Tagalog radio broadcasts or OPM or Original Pilipino Music. They say music is an agent to learning. While you listen and enjoy Tagalog music, you also get into the rhythm of Tagalog life.

There’s no other better practice for a new language than finding a native speaker and let him/her honestly criticize your abilities. Don’t get embarrassed. Embarrassment will lead you to nothing.  Have confidence that your private “tutor” is not there to put you down but to encourage you. Pilipinos are so great in motivating foreigners to learn their languages. They will thank you for the opportunity of having a nice chat with them.

Finally, ask question. Am I right or wrong? Is this correct or not? Tama o mali? Oo o hindi? The more questions you ask, the more learning you get.

So you see.. this Tagalog learning journey must start with an inspiration in mind. Eventually, as you progress, the inspiration becomes a reality.


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