Verbal Focus in Tagalog

One of my goals in this blog is to share my knowledge of the Tagalog grammar and, in the process, study it again, as I studied it many years ago and never revisited it.

I am publishing (and rivisiting and updating) posts about the Tagalog grammar in Tagalog, English and Italian because I want to master the Tagalog grammar terminology in these 3 languages.

Tagalog is an agglutinative language.

An agglutinative language is a type of language that uses agglutination.

Agglutination means that words are formed by stringing together morphemes (the smallest meaningful unit in a language) without changing them in spelling or phonetics.

As I have said in my first post about the Tagalog grammar, in Tagalog agglutination happens by combining one or more affixes with a root-word.

There are 3 main categories of affixes in Tagalog being:

Maka-uri: to form adjectives like maganda=beautiful

Maka-ngalan: related to nouns like mag-kapatid or mag-asawa

Maka-diwa: used to form verbs and to indicate verbal focus

Maka-diwa affixes and verbal focus in Tagalog

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)


In Tagalog the affix -an is used to talk about a location, and this applies not just to verbs but also to nouns.

For example the word aklatan, which is formed by combining aklat (book) with -an means “library” or “the place or location where books can be found”.

The word basurahan, which is formed by adding -an to basura (garbage) is the place where people dispose of garbage.

Similarly verbs that end with -an generally refer to an action where the focus is either the location or the direction of the action.

For example if I am going to Juan’s house I can use the verb puntahan and the house of Juan is my pupuntahan.

If I do something in behalf of someone and this person is the receiver or the direction of my action, I also use an -an verb like bigyan where the verb (“to give”) is used to talk about the person to whom an object is given, like for instance bigyan ko ng bulaklak ang misis ko (“my wife is the one to whom I give the flowers”, so my action, the action of buying flowers is directed toward my wife).

Sometimes -an can also be used for object focus verbs (see part 2) or even beneficiary focus verbs, speaking of which let’s now talk about those


These verbs are used to talk about the beneficiary of an action like for example the verb bilhan (to buy for someone) ex. bilhan mo ang bata ng kendi (“buy the candy for the child”)

In addition to -an another beneficiary focus affix is ipag- like in the following sentence: ipagluto mo ng l ang mga bata ng fried chicken (“(you) cook some fried chicken for the children”), even though, to be honest, I don’t hear ipag- verbs very much in everyday speech (my wife never uses ipag- verbs but she does use -an beneficiary verbs)

An easy way to talk about the beneficiary of an action without having to learn the beneficiary focus is by simply using the expression para sa (“for something”) or para kay (“for someone”) in an actor focus or in a object focus sentence.

For example, instead of saying ipagluto mo ang mga bata ng fried chicken you could simply say magluto ka ng fried chicken para sa mga bata (or para kay Mario if you are using a personal name)


The last type of focus is the instrumental which talks about the tool or instrument one is using to do something.

The affix here is ipang- or ipan-

So I could say something like “I am using the walis tambo to sweep the floor” and, in this case I have to use ipanlinis ko ang walis tambo ng sahig

If I wanted to avoid using the instrumental focus I could simply use an actor or object focus verb + the expression sa pamamagitan (“by means of”) like nagwawalis ako ng sahig sa pamamagitan ng walis tambo and, in reality, I have never heard my wife using ipang- verbs, she always uses either an actor focus affix or an object focus affix followed by the expression sa pamamagitan.