Learners tend to have different views on Tagalog: some find it quite easy to learn, while others experience difficulties with its grammar. No matter where you stand, studying the basics of Tagalog grammar is essential to mastering the language.
This article will give you an overview over the key aspects of Tagalog grammar to give you an idea of what you should focus on learning.
While Tagalog nouns are not inflected, they are usually preceded by case-marking particles. These follow an Austronesian alignment, also known as a trigger system, which is a distinct feature of Philippine languages. There are three basic cases: direct (or absolutive, often less accurately labeled the nominative); indirect (which may function as an ergative, accusative, or genitive); and oblique.
The oblique particle and the locative derived from it are similar to prepositions in English, marking things such as location and direction.
The case particles fall into two classes: one used with names of people (proper) and one for everything else (common).
Generally, articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun. Examples are ‘the, a,’ and ‘an’.
In Tagalog ‘the’ is usually translated with ang and the indefinite article a with ng. However Tagalog uses an entirely different approach, ang is called a focus marker, ng – an out of focus marker.
The noun in focus is the noun which is talked about. For example ‘Ang bahay ng lalaki maganda’, The house of the man is beautiful. ‘Beautiful’ is a description of the house, not of the man, since ang puts the house in focus.
Tagalog adjectives modify a noun or a pronoun. There are several types of Tagalog adjectives:
- Simple that consist of one word: hinog (ripe), ganda (beautiful)
- Affixed that consist of a root word and one or more affixes: tinanong (questioned), kumakain (eating)
- Repeating that are formed by the repetition of the whole or part of the root word: pulang-pula (really red), araw-araw (every day)
- Compound: ngiting-aso (literally: ‘dog smile’, meaning: ‘big smile’)
There are multiple ways to form the degrees of comparison in Tagalog. To make the comparative form, the prefixes ga-, sing-/kasing-, and magsing-/magkasing- as well as the words ‘higit’, ‘lalo’, ‘mas’, ‘di-hamak’, ‘di-gaano’, ‘di-gasino’, ‘di-masyado’, and others are used. To make the superlative form, words ‘sobra’, ‘ubod’, ‘tunay’, ‘talaga’, and ‘saksakan’ are used, as well as the repetition of the adjective.
In Tagalog, word categories are fluid: a word can sometimes be an adverb or an adjective depending on the word it modifies. If the word being modified is a noun, then the modifier is an adjective, if the word being modified is a verb, then it is an adverb.
For example, the word ‘mabilis’ means ‘fast’ in English. The Tagalog word ‘mabilis’ can be used to describe nouns like ‘koneho’ (‘rabbit’) in ‘konehong mabilis’ (‘quick rabbit’). In that phrase, ‘mabilis’ was used as an adjective. The same word can be used to describe verbs, one can say ‘tumakbong mabilis’ which means ‘quickly ran’. In that phrase, ‘mabilis’ was used as an adverb.
Like nouns, Tagalog personal pronouns are categorized by case: direct, indirect, and oblique.
Tagalog, like many languages, marks the T–V distinction: when addressing a single person in polite/formal/respectful settings, pronouns from either the 2nd person plural or the 3rd person plural group are used instead of the singular 2nd person pronoun.
Tagalog verbs are morphologically complex and are conjugated by taking on a variety of affixes reflecting focus/trigger, aspect, mood, voice, and other categories.
The aspect of the verb indicates the progressiveness of the verb. It specifies whether the action happened, is happening or will happen. Tagalog verbs are conjugated for time using aspect rather than tense.
The central feature of verbs in Tagalog and other Philippine languages is the trigger system, often called voice or focus. In this system, the thematic relation (agent, patient, or other oblique relations – location, direction, etc.) of the noun marked by the direct-case particle is encoded in the verb.
In its default unmarked form, the verb triggers a reading of the direct noun as the patient of the clause. In its second most common form, it triggers the noun as the agent of the clause. Other triggers are location, beneficiary, instrument, reason, direction, and the reciprocal.
Tagalog verbs also have affixes expressing grammatical mood: indicative, distributive, social, potential.
Some of the common Tagalog prepositions are: tungkol sa (about), sa (at), sa pamamagitan ng (by), para sa (for), of (ng), wala (without).
This is a very brief overview of Tagalog grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail. However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Tagalog grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.