Tagalog Lessons (Lesson 1): How Words are Formed in Tagalog

In this blog I primarily talk about how to make a marriage between a Westerner and a Filipina work.

I also glimpse into the Filipino culture and mentality and I have also briefly touched on the language.

As I have repeatedly said, although I can speak Tagalog, I prefer to communicate with my wife in English.

However, for the sake of building better rapport, I have decided to apply myself to the study of the Tagalog language.

Should you be interested in learning this language you can check out my posts about Tagalog that from now on will be part of this blog.

The Tagalog language is not the main topic of this blog, I will continue to talk about the Filipino mentality and how to deal with it, especially if you are married to a Filipina or wish to marry one, but my articles will occasionally be interspersed with some tips about how to learn Tagalog.

Let’s talk about the way words are formed in Tagalog.

Basically words in Tagalog are the result of combining a root or core word with one or more affixes.

English speakers are already familiar with this concept because in English a number of words are formed by adding an affix to a root word.

For example the root word beauty can be combined with ful to form the adjective beautiful.

Take for example the Tagalog root word ganda (that conveys the idea of beauty): if you combine it with ma- you form the adjective maganda or beautiful; if you combine it with -um- (between the first consonant and the first vowel) you form the verb gumanda and if you put the prefix ka- before the root word and the suffix -an after it you form the noun kagandahan.

A root word is simply a basic, core word that can be used to make other words, like an atom, or a building block that is used to make a house.

This is the starting point to understand the structure of the Tagalog language and what I can say is that I’ve found out that the structure of Tagalog is much easier than that of most Western languages, especially when you are learning verbs.

Being able to speak Tagalog can make an intimate relationship with a Filipina (which is tantamount to marrying the whole culture) much more interesting.

More on Learning Tagalog: Verbal Focus

In one of my posts I mentioned that one of the things that made it relatively easy for me to learn the Tagalog grammar is the fact that there are no real “tenses” in Tagalog. There is just a “completed” aspect, an “incompleted” aspect and a “contemplated” one.

The tricky thing though is that more than one affix can be attached to a root word to form a verb to determine the “focus” of the sentence.

Just to briefly gloss over it, take for example the verb kumain=”to eat”. If I say kumain ako ng pancit what I am saying is that “I am the one who ate pancit“.If, instead, I say kinain ko ang pancit what I am saying is that pancit is what I ate, I am no longer focusing on the doer of the action of eating but on what has been eaten.

Even the pronoun changes accordingly: if I use kumain then I have to use ako, while if I use kinain I need to use ko. The “article” (it is not really an article but we can call it that to simplify) changes as well: in a subject focus type of sentence it is ng, while in an object focus type of sentence it’s ang.

Again this business of focus is a little more complex than what I’ve briefly mentioned here but it is not too difficult either.

So, the purpose of these brief posts I’ve made, about the basic structure of the Tagalog language, is not to engage you in a lecture about the language itself but merely to let you know (just in case your wife is Filipina or you are planning to marry a Filipina and you have never considered the possibility to learn Tagalog) that learning Tagalog is within reach and it’s not as difficult as one might think.