Tagalog Lessons (Lesson 2): Focus

In a Tagalog sentence, a Tagalog speaker will select a portion that they most want to highlight or the point of the sentence.

If for example I say something like: “I threw the garbage in the trash can” I can either emphasize the one who did the action thereby answering the question: “who threw the garbage in the can?”. Or I could highlight that the garbage is what I threw in the garbage can thereby answering the question: “what did you throw in the garbage can?”. Or you could highlight where the garbage was thrown thereby answering the question: “which is the place where you threw the garbage?”.

Depending on where I put the focus I have to adjust different things:

  • The marker (basically the article) that appears before the noun
  • The personal pronoun
  • The affix of the verb

Let’s say for example that the question is: “who threw the garbage in the can?”, which in Tagalog is: “sino ang nagtapon ng basura sa basurahan?”

The answer to this question in Tagalog would be: “ako ang isa na nagtapon ng basura sa basurahan”.

What I am doing here is:

  • I am using the ako personal pronoun which is the pronoun you use when the one doing the action is in focus.

The other focus pronouns are: ikaw (you), siya (he or she), tayo or kami (we), kayo (You), sila (they).

  • I am using the marker ang to highlight the noun that is in focus
  • I am using the affix nag- before the root word of the verb, which is the past tense (or more accurately the “completed aspect”) of the verb magtapon.
  • In the question I am also using an interrogative pronoun that is in focus which is sino

Other verbal affixes that go with the portion of the sentence that is in focus are, for example, –um-, maka- or makapag- so, whenever you come across a verb like kumain or uminom or makakita you know that those verbs are referring to the focus of the sentence.

The basura in the sentence is the object but it is not in focus because the question I am answering is “who threw the garbage….?”. In this case instead of ang I have to use ng before the noun.

The pronouns that go with the ng part of a sentence are: ko, mo, niya, namin, ninyo, nila.

The verbs that go with the ng portion of a sentence have different affixes like i- (like itapon=to throw) or –in (like basahin=to read).

This means that if I wanted to answer the question: “what did you throw….?” I would have to say: “itinapon ko ang basura….”

If I wanted to highlight the location where the garbage was thrown I would have to use a verbal affix ending with -an and saybasurahan ang tinapunan ko ng basura” .

This is just a taste of what focus is about in Tagalog. Focus is the key to the Tagalog language and once you understand it the rest of the language will easily fall into place and it didn’t really take me years to understand these concepts, I think in few weeks one can understand the nuts and the bolts of the Tagalog grammar.

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