The Cebuano Corner

Basics of Cebuano grammar, free penpal addresses and more

Learn Cebuano 2


1. Nouns


a) general


Nouns are words that name something:


         kusina                                                    kitchen

         iro                                                         dog



Nouns are usually preceded by an article, ang, when they are topics*  of the sentence:

Ang sinina ni Isabel mahal kaayo.                     Isabel's dress is very expensive.

Asa ang akong lapis?                                      Where is my pencil?


Named persons, when topics, use si instead of ang:

Si Jane diha.                                                    Jane is over there.

Si Mr Alvarez nitawag nimo.                            Mr Alvarez called you.


(*The topic of a sentence is the person or thing that is talked about. The rest of the sentence is called a comment, in other words anything that is said about the topic. In the very first sentence above, 'ang sinina ni Isabel' is the topic and 'mahal kaayo' is the comment.

Thus, note that nouns that are not topics are also not preceded by ang:

Ang akong mama maestra.                                     My mother is a teacher.

- 'maestra' isn't preceded by an article here because in this sentence it is the comment, not the topic.)



b) the plural

Plural is expressed by putting the word mga (pronounced approximately like 'manga') in front of the noun. The noun itself remains unchanged:

Asa ang mga libro?                                          Where are the books?

Ang mga balay nindot kaayo.                           The houses are very beautiful.

(The adjective gwapa 'beautiful' can only be used when talking about animate things such as people, flowers or fruits.)

When there are several attributes preceding the noun, mga is always next to the noun:

ang akong mga lapis                                         my pencils

ang imong mga amiga                                       your friends


Note 1: mga doesn't need to be used in the following cases:

i) with numerals

tulo ka balay                                                     three houses

ii) when there is another word denoting pluralism in the noun phrase already:

daghang bisita                                                    many guests

iii) in a sentence, the comment doesn't need to be preceded by mga but it can be there:

(mga) estudyante sila                                        they are students  


Note 2: with ka- + -an it is possible to form the plural in the following way (sometimes the meaning changes to denote a group or a collective term) :


lungsod (town) -> kalungsoran (towns)             (note that a letter may change in some cases)

balay (house) -> kabalayan (a group of houses)

tawo (person) -> katawhan (humankind)

humay (rice) -> kahumayan (ricefield)

kahoy (tree)  -> kakahoyan (forest)

saging (banana) -> kasagingan (banana plantation)



c) the genitive


The genitive expresses ownership. It is formed with the help of two prepositions, sa or ni. The genitive phrase always comes after what is owned, in a similar way to the of -genitive in English. The use of ni / sa is illustrated in the following examples:         


ang amiga ni Pepe                                          Pepe's friend

ang mga libro ni Jun-Jun                                 Jun-Jun's books  

ang amiga ni Paula bag-o ug kamera               Paula's friend's new camera

ang auto ni papa                                             dad's car

ang auto sa akong papa                                  my father's car

ang mga mata sa iring                                     the eyes of the cat

ang mga pages (= panid) sa libro                    the pages of the book

ang atop sa balay                                           the roof of the house

ang mga simbahan sa Cebu City                     the churches of Cebu City


The rule is that you should use ni when the 'owner' is a named person (Jun-Jun, Diana, papa...). 

When the 'owner' is a person with any kind of attribute before the actual name (akong papa), or when the 'owner' is any other animate being or an inanimate thing, use sa.

Note that in the case of two genitives following each other, like in 'ang amiga ni Paula bag-o ug kamera' above, only one genitive form is used. It would be slightly awkward here to say for example 'ang bag-o kamera sa amiga ni Paula'.



2. Adjectives


a) general


Adjectives describe what something is like:


              pugnaw                                 cold

              pula                                       red

              mahinay                                 slow


The adjective usually comes before the noun:


ang tiguwang lalaki                                 an old man

ang bag-ong balay                                     a new house


The word kaayo ('very') is placed after the adjective:

ang mahal kaayo nga balay                    a very expensive house


The adjective can be negated by putting the word dili in front of it:

dili maayo                                            bad


b) the comparative


Asay mas dako, Manila o Kuala Lumpur?        Which is bigger, Manila or Kuala Lumpur?

Kini sakyanan mas mahal kay anang usa.                This car is more expensive than that one.

Jane mas tiguwang pa kay ni Juan.                          Jane is older than Juan.

The comparative is formed through placing the word mas before the adjective (compare Spanish). The English 'than' has the Cebuano equivalent kay

In some fixed phrases there are also other ways of expressing the comparative:

Maayo nalang maawahe kay sa wala.                      Better late than never.

Maayo nalang kay sa wala.                                     It's better than nothing.


c) the superlative


Mount Everest ang pinaka taas nga buntod sa kalibutan.   

                             Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world.

Siya ang pinaka maayo estudyante sa atong klase.

                             She is the best student in our class.

The superlative is formed by placing the word pinaka in front of the adjective. With some adjectives, the superlative can be formed with the prefix kina- and the suffix -an:

Kinamanghuran siya sa atong pamilia.

                            He is the youngest (member) in our family.

Kana ang kinabatian salida akong nakit-an.

                            That is the worst film I have ever seen.



Photo by Irena Heberer.

Ang kahumayan sa Bohol./ A ricefield in Bohol.



3. Verbs


a) tenses

Below are some simplified examples of expressing the different tenses.


Future tense (planned action):


Molakaw ko ug lima ka kilometros karon.       I am going to walk five kilometres today.      

Moadto sila sa Bohol ugma.                           They are going to go to Bohol tomorrow.

Mokaon kita ug paniudto didto.                      Let's eat lunch over there.

Magtrabaho siya sa pabrika sa sunod tuig.     He will work in a factory next year.

When the action is of long duration, the prefix mag- is used. Otherwise, mo- is used. With movement verbs (such as to walk, to go) mo- is used.



Present tense:


Nikuha si George ug libro sa lamisa.     George takes a book from the table.

Miabli siya sa bintana.                       She opens the window.

Nagatrabaho siya sa pabrika.          He works in a factory.

Nikaon ko ug paniudto.                   I am eating lunch.

Nagakaon ko ug pani-udto.             I am eating lunch.

Nangaon kita ug pani-udto.            We are eating lunch.

Note: Please notice the different forms of the prefix in the singular and plural forms of this verb (kaon ='to eat'). (This only applies to some verbs.)

When the action is momentary or of short duration, ni- (or mi-) is used. (These two prefixes are interchangeable.) For an action of longer duration, use naga-.

Note that the two sentences Nikaon ko... and Nagakaon ko ug paniudto above mean otherwise the same but in the latter, the eating is of longer duration than in the former.


When the action is habitual (= repetitive) or factual, mo- is used.

Mobiyahe sila sa Negros kaduha sa tuig.               They travel to Negros twice a year.

Mokaon ang mga amo ug saging.                           Monkeys eat bananas.      


Past tense:

Ako nilakaw ug lima ka kilometros gahapon.             I walked five kilometres yesterday.

Ako mika-on ug saging.                                              I ate a banana.

Nagtrabaho siya sa pabrika duha ka tuig.                   He worked in a factory for two years.

Ni- (mi-) is used for momentary action. Thus, momentary action doesn't make a difference between the present and the past tenses (see Present tense above).  To emphasize the action happening in the present or in the past, adverbs of time or other words must be used.

An action of long duration gets the prefix nag-.


Completed action:

Ako nakalakaw ug lima ka kilometros kada adlaw karong semanaha.

   (= I have walked five kilometres every day this week.)

Ako nakakaon na ug saging. (= I have eaten a banana.)


There is a prefix to express completed action (naka-). Sentences with this verbal form can be translated in English in the present perfect tense. This prefix can be used with a limited number of verbs only.



b) modals


Ako molakaw gyud ug lima ka kilometros.

          (= I must walk five kilometres.)

Ako makalakaw ug lima ka kilometros.

          (= I can walk five kilometres.)

Ako nakalakaw ug lima ka kilometros.

         (= I was able to walk five kilometres.)

Ako molakaw ug lima ka kilometros ugma.

          (= I will walk five kilometres tomorrow.)

Ako dili makaka-on ug pani-udto, busog na ko. (= Dili ko makaka-on ug pani-udto, busog na ko.)

         (= I can't eat lunch, I'm full.)


c) the verb 'to be'


Often, there is no equivalent of the verb 'to be' in the sentence:


Taga Pilipinas sila.                                            They are from the Philippines.

Gikapoy ka na?                                                Are you tired already?

Nasakit si Joe gahapon.                                     Joe was ill yesterday.


The Cebuano word man can be translated as the present and past tenses of to be:

Kumusta man ka? - Maayo man.                    How are you? - (I) am fine.

Nasakit man si Joe gahapon.                           Joe was ill yesterday.


Note 1: man can usually be omitted altogether from the sentence.

 Note 2: when man is present in sentences where the verb is some other than 'to be', it carries no meaning and is inserted mainly for euphonic purposes (= to make the sentence flow more smoothly and to soften its tone).


When expressing that somebody is somewhere, dia, nia ('over here'), naa ('over there'; the speaker can point to the location, or when talking to somebody about his/her whereabouts) and tua (far from the speaker; the location can be only referred to) are often used in the sentence:


Dia man ako diri.                                               I am here.

Naa ka sa balay?                                              Are you at home?

Kahibaw mi nga naa kamo diha.                        We know that you are there.

Tua sila sa Manila.                                            They are in Manila.


d) the verb 'to have'


Ako naay tulo ka maayo nga amigo.                             I have three good friends.

            (= Naa koy tulo ka maayo nga amigo.)

Pedro naay duha ka igsoon lalaki.                                Pedro has two brothers.

Naa silay parente sa USA.                                          They have relatives in the USA.

Naa kay ballpen?/Naa ka ba'y ballpen?                        Do you have a pen?

Among pamilya walay tv pa.                                        My family doesn't have a tv yet.

In an affirmative sentence, the ownership is expressed with the help of naa + y. When the person is named (e.g. Pedro above), the y is affixed in the end of naa, yielding naay (or naa'y; the use of the apostrophe is voluntary).

In a negative sentence, walay (wala'y) is used instead of naa.

Sometimes the floating y can be affixed to even some other words, like in the example Naa ka ba'y ballpen? above. (ba is an empty word that can be added to yes-no questions to differentiate them from affirmative sentences.) The rule of thumb is that the y should be attached to the word immediately before the noun phrase. (The y is a short form for ang, the definite article, so it can appear everywhere ang can, too.)

Besides naa, other words are possible for the expression of ownership. These are duna'y and may for all contexts and dinha'y to express that someone had something in the past. Note that the y in may is fixed unlike in the other words, i.e. it can't be moved to the end of any other word.

Duna'y Pedro duha ka igsoon nga lalaki.                       Pedro has two brothers.

May ka ba ballpen?                                                     Do you have a pen?

Dinhay Nina daghang amiga sa Manila.                       Nina had a lot of friends

                                                                                   [while she was] in Manila.




e) there is, there are

When no owner (a pronoun or a noun phrase) is present in sentences containing one of the words denoting ownership in (d) above ( = naa'y, duna'y, may, dinha'y; and wala'y for negation), the meaning of the sentence becomes 'something is/exists (somewhere)'.


May (= Duna'y, etc.) hinamis diri.                     There's some dessert here.

Walay yelo sa Pilipinas.                                    There is no snow in the Philippines.

Dinhay daghang tawo sa sinehan.                     There were many people in the cinema.


Note that the above words are not obligatory for expressing 'there is/there are':

Traynta ka estudyantes sa klase.                       There were (or: are; depending on context)

                                                                        thirty students in the classroom.

Daghang tawo sa sinehan.



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