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Alternative Names: Filipino, Pilipino.

Classification: Austronesian, Western-Malayo-Polynesian, Philippine group, Central subgroup. Tagalog is related to other Central Philippine languages, particularly to Bikol, spoken in southeast Luzon, Cebuano, spoken in the Visayas and Mindanao, and Hiligaynon, spoken in West and Central Visaya.

Overview. Tagalog is one of the more than one-hundred languages of the Philippine archipelago. It functions as a lingua franca and has be chosen as the national language of the Philippines. Though it was written in an Indian-derived alphabet before the Spanish colonization, begun in 1564, no Prehispanic literature has survived. It has a remarkably complex verbal morphology based on affixes and focus constructions.

Distribution. Tagalog is the major language in the central region of the island of Luzon in the Philippines, particularly in Manila and the provinces around it.  The mayor language to the north is Ilocano, which occupies the northern part of the island, and the major one to the south is Cebuano which prevails in Mindanao. In the last few decades, Tagalog has spread over the entire Philippine archipelago as a second language.

Speakers. About 90 million people in the Philippines are either first- or second-language speakers of Tagalog. For 25.3 million of them Tagalog is their mother-tongue. Filipino expatriates have carried the language to North America (Canada, United States), the Middle East (Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), the United Kingdom and Guam:




Saudi Arabia














Status. In 1987 Tagalog was established as the national language of Philippines. It is now taught in schools throughout the country. The Tagalog of Manila is used as a lingua franca in many cities and it is prominent in the mass media.

Varieties. Standard Tagalog is the dialect of Manila. Other regional varieties are the dialects of Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan, Tanay-Paete and Tayabas.

Oldest Documents. The earliest documents in Tagalog date from a few decades after the first Spanish colonization in 1564:

  1. 1593.Doctrina Cristiana (Christian Doctrine) is a bilingual catechism (Spanish-Tagalog), the first printed book in the Philippines. The Tagalog text was written in the native syllabic script.

  1. 1605.Memorial de la Vida Cristiana (Memorial of the Christian Life), a religious poem, is the first Tagalog literary work.


Tagalog phonology was influenced by Spanish and English.

Syllable structure. CV and CVC are the most common syllable patterns. Consonant clusters in native words are restricted to initial position and the second element must be a glide. In loanwords, both, initial and final clusters are found.

Vowels (10): Tagalog has five basic vowels, i, e, a, u, o, which can be short or long.  Vowel length in non-word-final syllables is phonemic, in word-final syllables of native words vowel length is not phonemic. It is not marked in the script. Tagalog has also four diphthongs: iw, ay [aj], aw, uy [uj].

Consonants (16). In addition to the following native consonant phonemes, several others occur only in loanwords. They include the labio-dental fricatives [f] and [v] as well as the alveolar affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ] (represented as ts and dy, respectively).


Stress: is  closely related to vowel length. Long vowels are always stressed.

Script and Orthography

Prior to the Spanish colonization the script used was a syllabary of probable Indian origin (called Alibata) which was replaced by the Roman alphabet under the Spanish. The Tagalog alphabet (abakada) has 20 letters (their pronunciation is shown with the symbols of the International Phonetic Association):

-c, f, j, q, v, x, and z are used in foreign names and in words borrowed from Spanish and English.

-vowel length and stress are not indicated.

-the glottal stop is not indicated in the script.


  1. Nominal. Nouns are not inflected for case, number or gender. However, particles mark the noun as common or proper, singular or plural, indicating its syntactical role as well:


  3. The agent is the performer of the action, the patient is the recipient of the action, the beneficiary is the person who benefits from the action (equivalent to the indirect object of traditional grammar).

  4.     An adjective may precede or follow a noun, both are connected by adding the suffix -ng to the first member of the pair (adjective or noun). The plural of adjectives may be expressed by partial reduplication.


  1. Personal pronouns occur, like nouns, in three series: subject, agent/patient, location/beneficiary.

  2. They distinguish between 1st person plural inclusive (you and I) and exclusive (he/she/they and I).

  3. The unmarked form may be used as the grammatical subject, nominal predicate or as a fronted topic; in the 2nd singular, the enclitic ka functions exclusively as subject and ikaw is used in all other unmarked contexts. The agent/genitive forms are required for the actors in transitive sentences and are also used as possessive pronouns. The locative occurs after the preposition sa ('at') or as a prenominal possessive pronoun.


  1. Demonstrative pronouns recognize three-deictic degrees (this, that near, that far) and have three syntactical forms, used like the same series of personal pronouns.

  2. There are two interrogative pronouns: sino (‘who?’) and ano (‘what?’).

  1. Verbal

  2. In contrast to the nominal system, the verbal system of Tagalog is complex. It resorts to a great variety of affixes (prefixes, infixes and suffixes) to convey grammatical and syntactical information. Other affixes are derivational allowing to create new stems from preexisting ones with a different  meaning.

  1. One type of affix is used to mark aspect, distinguishing between unfinished actions (imperfective aspect), completed actions (perfective aspect), and hypothetical actions (contemplated aspect). Imperfective and contemplative verbs have incompleteness marking in which the first consonant and the first vowel of the stem are reduplicated. Imperfective and perfective verbs have actuality marking involving affixes having the phoneme [n]: n-, ni-, -in-. For example:

  1. infinitive: magwalis (‘to sweep’)

  2. imperfective: nagwawalis (‘sweeps, is sweeping’)

  3. perfective: nagwalis (‘swept, have swept’)

  4. contemplated: magwawalis (‘will sweep’)

  1. mag-; is a prefix indicating a repeated action (see below)

  2. walis means ‘broom’

  3. -wa- is the reduplication for incompleteness marking

  4. n- is the prefix for actuality marking (which replaces the m of mag-).

  1. There are many non-aspectual affixes as well, to express possibility and ability, causativity and intensiveness.

  1. Ability affixes are m- (in transitive verbs) and maka- (in intransitive verbs):

  1. umawit (‘sing’) > makaawit (‘be able to sing’)

  2. gamitin (‘use’) > magamit (‘be able to use something’)

  1. Causative affixes are formed with the prefix pa-.

  1. To mark a repeated, intense or prolonged action, intensive verbs may be formed by combining the prefix pag-/mag- with the stem which in some verbs is reduplicated (only its first consonant and vowel). For example:

  1. kain (‘eat’); mag-kain (‘eat repeatedly, eat a lot’)

  2. tapakan (‘step on something’); pag-ta-tapakan (‘step repeatedly on something’).

  1. A third type of affix attached to the verb is used to express syntactical relations, focusing on the agent, the patient, the beneficiary, the instrument or location of the action.

  1. The agent affixes are -um-, m-, ma-, maka-. The first one, the most common, is intercalated between the first consonant and first vowel of the stem.

  1. The patient of a transitive verb is marked with the following affixes: -in, i-, -an, ma-.

  1. The beneficiary or instrument of the action is marked by: i-.

  1. Location is marked with: -an, -in.

  1. In the following examples, the affix marking the focus in the verb bili ('bought)' is highlighted in red while the focused noun is marked in bold. The noun in focus is always preceded by the particle ang if it is a common name or by the particle si if it is a proper name. When the agent or the patient are not in focus they are preceded by the particle ng (ni for proper nouns), when the location is not in focus is preceded by the preposition sa, when the beneficiary is not in focus is preceded by para sa (para kay for proper nouns).

  1. Agent

  2. Bumili ng saging ang lalaki sa tindahan para sa unggoy.

  3. bought     bananas   the   man     at    store  for  the monkey.

  1. The man bought bananas at the store for the monkey.

  1. Patient

  2. Binili ng lalaki ang saging sa tindahan para sa unggoy.

  1. The bananas were bought by a man at the store for the monkey.

  1. Location

  2. Binilhan ng lalaki ng saging ang tindahan para sa unggoy.

  1. At the store, a man bought bananas for the monkey.

  1. Beneficiary

  2. Ibinili ng lalaki ng saging sa tindahan ang unggoy.

  1. For the monkey, a man bought bananas at the store.

  1. in bold: noun focus in Tagalog; underlined: focus in translation; red: affixes marking focus in the verb.


In a sentence, the verbal complex is placed first while the subject tends to be last. Thus, the most common word order is Verb-Object-Subject (VOS) though VSO is also found. Syntactical roles are indicated by the form of the verb and the form of the argument (agent, patient, location, instrument, beneficiary). Because of the frequent focus on the object, passive constructions are commonplace. There is an all-purpose preposition sa. Tagalog has three negators which are all clause-initial: possessive and existential clauses are negated with wala, imperatives with huwag,  and other clauses with hindi. Relative clauses are introduced by the ligature na/ng.


Tagalog contains old loanwords from Sanskrit, Dravidian, Arabic and Chinese. From the 16th century it assimilated many Spanish terms and later English ones.

Basic Vocabulary

one: isa

two: dalawa

three: tatlo

four: apat

five: lima

six: anim

seven: pito

eight: walo

nine: siyam

ten: sampu

hundred: (i)sandaan

father: ama

mother: ina

brother: kapatid na lalaki

sister: kapatid na babae

son: anak na lalaki

daughter: anak na babae

head: ulo

face: mukha

eye: mata

hand: kamay

foot: paa

heart: puso

tongue: dila

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Tagalog'. P. Schachter, revised by L. A. Reid. In The World’s Major Languages, 833-855. B. Comrie (ed). Routledge (2009).

  2. -'Tagalog'. N. P. Himmelmann. In The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar, 350-76. A. Adelaar & N. P. Himmelmann (eds). Routledge (2005).

  3. -Tagalog Reference Grammar. P. Schachter & F. T. Otanes. University of California Press (1972).

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