The Basic Structure of the Tagalog Language-Part 2 (Actor Focus Verbs and Object Focus Verbs)

In my first post about the basic structure of the Tagalog language, I touched on how words are formed in Tagalog by combining one or more affixes with a root word thereby forming nouns, adjectives and verbs.

I also touched on such aspects as the “ay” inverter, plurals, linkers and a bunch of other stuff.

Another topic I glossed over is the difference between verbal aspect and tenses and I mentioned that in Tagalog there are no tenses but only aspects being the completed aspect (ex. nagbasa ako), the incompleted aspect (nagbabasa ako) and the contemplated aspect (magbabasa ako) and this is without a doubt something that makes it easier for a foreigner who speaks a language in which there are many tenses to learn Tagalog.

A trickier thing about Tagalog grammar is the so-called focus which basically means that in Tagalog you have to use the right affix to form a verb, depending on the focal point of the sentence, and there are many verbal affixes in Tagalog like -um-, mag-, maka-, makapag-, ma-, magpa-, i-, -in, -an.

You also need to use the right marker (something like what we call an article in Western languages) like ang, ng, sa (or si, ni and kay if you are talking about a person).

The focus of the sentence also determines which personal pronouns you are going to use.

The actor focus personal pronouns are:


Ikaw (or ka)=you

Siya=he or she

Kami or tayo=we (I’ll talk about the difference in another article)



The object focus personal pronouns are :




Namin or natin



To illustrate how all of this works, let’s take the root word basa, which conveys the idea of reading and let’s say that we want to say something like “I (or you, he/she, we, You, they) read a book”

In this sentence we’ve got:

  • A personal pronoun (I)
  • A verb (to read)
  • A marker (or article being “a”)

In this sentence I can basically emphasize two elements:

  • The one who is reading thereby answering the question “who reads the book?”
  • The object or the thing being read which answers the question “what is being read?”


The first type of focus is the actor focus type of sentence:

In this kind of sentence I am going to use such verbal affixes like –um– (that goes between the first consonant and the first vowel of the root word) or mag-.

The markers I am going to use in connection with the actor are ang or si (if the actor is a personal name, like “si Eduardo”).

And the personal pronouns are ako, ikaw etc.


Let’s make a few examples:

The man is reading a book”

In Tagalog that would be: “Ang tao ay nagbabasa (present “tense” or, more accurately “incompleted aspect” of magbasa) ng isang aklat”. Notice that I am using the “ay” which inverts the order of the sentence that could also be rendered as “nagbabasa ang tao ng aklat”.

“Eduardo is reading the book”

Si Eduardo ay nagbabasa ng aklat” (or “nagbabasa si Eduardo….”).

I am reading the book”

Ako ay nagbabasa ng aklat”

In the examples above I have used the verbal affix “mag” which turns the root word basa into a mag- verb, which is only one type of actor focus verb.

The completed aspect of magbasa is nagbasa (mag becomes nag)

The incompleted aspect is nagbabasa (mag becomes nag and I am doubling the first syllable)

The contemplated aspect (basically the “future tense”) is magbabasa.

The abilitative form (expressing the ability to do the action) of a mag- verb is makapag-, so to convey the idea that one has the ability or the possibility to read I say makapagbasa.


The other common actor focus affix is –um– by using which with basa the verb is bumasa (past: bumasa, present: bumabasa, again I am doubling the first syllable, future: babasa, I am removing the um to form the future) and the corresponding abilitative form is maka-


Another actor focus affix is ma- for actor focus verbs like:

Matulog (to sleep)

Makinig (to listen)

Maligo (to take a bath)

Manood (to watch)


The second type of focus is the object focus in which case I am answering the question “what is being read?”



The book is what the man is reading”

“Binabasa (present “tense” or incompleted aspect of basahin) ng tao ang aklat”

The book is what Eduardo is reading”

“Binabasa ni Eduardo ang aklat”

The book is what I am reading”

“Binabasa ko ang aklat”

In this case I have used a verb that ends in –in like basahin, inumin, ayusin etc. (Past: binasa, present: binabasa, future: basahin)


Another common object focus verb is the one that begins with i- like ituro, idiin, itago etc. (past: itinuro, present: itinuturo, future: ituturo).


Some ma- verbs are actor focus like makinig while others are object focus like:

Makita (to see)

Marinig (to hear)

Mapansin (to pay attention)


Some object focus verbs end in -an like:

Buksan (to open)

Takpan (to cover)

These two are just the two main focuses in Tagalog.

There are other focuses like beneficiary, instrumental etc. that I am going to cover in other posts.

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