Foreigner Teaching Tagalog: the Difference Between “Um” Verbs and “Mag” Verbs

As I’ve mentioned in another post, when the actor (the one doing the action) is the focus of the sentence, Filipinos generally use mag verbs (like magtayo, magbasa etc.) or um verbs (like tumayo, uminom etc.).

I’ve been asking myself, for as long as I’ve been studying Tagalog, what the difference between the two types of verbs is and when exactly to use, for example, bumangon or magbangon.

I’ve done quite a bit of research but, generally, Tagalog grammar books don’t explain that. The only bit of information I’ve found, I’ve found it in a book by a lady named Teresita Ramos and what she says is, basically, that mag verbs are “transitive” (generally speaking) while um verbs are generally “intransitive”.

Somebody borrowed my book a few years ago and never returned it so I don’t have the possibility to check this information again but I think this explanation makes sense because Filipinos usually use magbangon to lift themselves up, not an object while they use magbangon when they lift or raise something.

For example:

Sa umaga bumabangon ako alas 5

Ang estudiante ay nagbangon ng isang tanong (there is an object here)

This however is not always the case because, sometimes, even um verbs have an object (example uminom ako ng tubig).

As far as I understand it, mag is generally for transitive verbs while um is generally (but not always) for intransitive ones.

This is one of the blind spots in my understanding of Tagalog…..

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