Tagalog Verbal Focus: Introduction

Beginning Tagalog 2 Grammar

Tagalog has a rather complex verbal system. This verb system is based on the use of affixes. As mentioned previously, an affix is like a little marker or code that is placed in a word. An affix can be added to the front of a word (prefix), to the end of a word (suffix), or in the middle of a word (infix). The affix is a way of packaging in some extra information into a word.

For example, English uses affixes in verbs in order to indicate whether the action of the verb happened in the past or the present. Consider the English verb kick. If I add the affix -ed on to the end of this word:

kick + ed = kicked

I have now indicated that the kicking happened in the past. If I added the affix -ing on to the word kick,

kick + ing = kicking

you now know that the action is occurring in the present.

Tagalog also uses affixes in a similar way to indicate if an action if completed or not (we will discuss this later). In addition to this, Tagalog uses affixes to indicate the role of the focus of the sentence. In other words, affixes are used to let you know what the focus is doing in the sentence. This will take some explaining.

Let’s look at the following sentence in English:

The man bit the dog.

As you can see, there are two nouns in this sentence: the man and the dog. Now, ask yourself, how do you know which one did the biting. Was the man the one who bit the dog? Or was the dog the one who bit the man? Of course, in this case, it was the man that bit the dog. We know this because of the word order. Man comes before dog. What if I reversed this sentence?

The dog bit the man.

Now you know that it was the dog that bit the man.

Some languages do not depend on word order to indicate what role the words play in the sentence. Instead, many languages use little markers to indicate things like which word did the biting and which word got bitten. Let’s look at how this works. First let’s pretend that the asterisk symbol * is a little marker that indicates that the word this symbol goes with is the doer of the action of the sentence. Think of as a little sign that says “Hey! Anytime you see me stuck on a word, you know I’m doing the action!” Now, let’s say that the number sign # is a little marker that indicates that the word this symbol goes with receives the action of the verb. If I stick these markers onto my nouns in my previous sentence, this is what I get:

The dogbit the man#

Now you know that the dog (because of *) bit the man. If I reverse the word order, the meaning of the sentence is still the same.

The man# bit the dog*

This still means that the dog bit the man.

English itself once used markers in this same way instead of relying totally on word order. We lost these markers over time. However, our pronouns still retain the method of changing according to their role in the sentence. For example, I and me work in the same way that we have discussed above. When I do the action I use the pronoun I. When I receive the action I use me. Compare these sentences:

I bit the dog.

The dog bit me.

Tagalog is a language that does not use word order to tell you who is doing what in a sentence. Instead, Tagalog uses affixes and markers to tell you this information. By looking at markers on nouns and affixes in verbs, you can tell who is doing the action of the sentence etc. In the Tagalog system, the marker on the noun tells you which word is in focus, and affixes in the verb tell you what the focus is doing. It’s like a code you must figure out. Let’s see how this works:

Here’s the sentence we used before:

The man bit the dog.

Now, as we know, the nouns in Tagalog are marked according to whether they are in focus or not:

Ang man bit ng dog

In Tagalog man is tao, dog is aso, and bite is kagat:

Kumagat ng aso   ang tao

bit               dog         man

Tao (man) is in focus. Aso (dog) is not in focus. How do I know if the man bit the dog or if the dog bit the man? I look at the verb. In this case the verb is kumagat. The UM in kumagat is a little affix that tells me that the focus of the sentence is doing the action. So I look at the UM and if I see that tao (man) is in focus (tao has ang in front), I know that the focus (the man) did the biting.

I could reverse the markers without changing the meaning:

Kumagat ang tao ng aso.

Here the meaning is still the same: the man bit the dog.

In this section, we are going to talk about the major affixes that go with Tagalog verbs. Once you learn these affixes, you can figure out what is going on in a Tagalog sentence. You can also avoid saying the type of things that we non-native speakers tend to say like: the fish caught me, etc. You will rob your listener of the fun times and laughter, but you might save yourself some embarrassment.

This section will cover the most common verbal affixes used for the basic focus forms: actor/agent, object/goal, location/direction, beneficiary/benefactive, and instrumental. More complex verb forms such as causative and comitatives will not be dealt with in this page.

Use the links below to learn about these verb forms in Tagalog and their proper use:

The folk song on this page uses different verb forms. Listen and take note of their usage.

Doon Po Sa Amin
Doon po sa aming
bayan ng San Roque
May nagkatuwaang
apat na pulubi
Sumayaw ang pilay,
nanood ang bulag
Kumanta ang pipi,
nakinig ang bingi.