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.

Learning Tagalog: Long Words in Tagalog

One of the things that might hold you back from learning the native language of your Filipino spouse is the fact that Tagalog seems to have very long words.

To me this was a scary thing. I was coming across words like nakapagpapatibay, nakapagpapalakas, kapanganakan and so on and I was wondering how I could possibly memorize these words.

Here is the trick: you don’t have to memorize them at all, you just have to understand how to put together a root word (which is usually quite short) and one or more affixes than can turn a root word into a noun, an adjective or a verb.

For example, one of the words I mentioned above is nakapagpapatibay meaning “encouraging” or “strengthening”.

The root word tibay conveys the idea of “strength”. Now by combining the root word tibay with various affixes you can form the adjective matibay (“strong”), the noun katibayan (strength) and, for example, the verb patibayin (“to strengthen” or “to encourage”), or you can change verbal focus (basically what the “focus” of the sentence is) and verbal aspect (whether the action is completed or not) and, for example, create the word nakapagpapatibay meaning “encouraging” which is formed by sticking the prefix makapag (expressing the idea of “ability”)+pa (some sort of “causative form”) to the root word tibay, turning the initial “m” into an “n” and then doubling the pa affix to express the “incompleted” action.

These little examples show that, once you understand the logic behind how root words are combined with various affixes, the process of learning Tagalog becomes quite smooth.

And it doesn’t even take years to learn these basic rules. I guarantee you that this is everything but rocket science.

Although I was very busy, at the time when I started learning Tagalog, in almost one year and a half, I became quite fluent without putting out too much effort, and all the more so because I discovered that the structure of the Tagalog language is a lot easier than Italian for example.

Why should you learn Tagalog though? In some of my previous posts I mentioned that by doing so you can build better rapport with your Filipino in-laws, another reason is that when you visit the Philippines hindi ka maibebenta (basically they cannot fool you) and another reason is that it is pretty cool to be in a train or on a bus in your hometown and start a conversation in Tagalog with a Filipino and the other passengers (your fellow countrymen) look at you in disbelief and the Filipino himself is rather taken aback.

Obviously I am just glossing over the topic of how to combine root words with affixes, and I am just skimming the surface of it in this brief post, but I guarantee you that learning Tagalog is much easier than you may think.