Translating Past Tense Verbs in English to Filipino

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Filipino teacher. Filipino is not my first language. The content of this post is based on my personal experience and what I have researched on the topic. If you find any errors in the information provided here or in the translations that I have made, let me know by leaving a comment or contacting me by using the contact form above. I would be happy to make any changes, if necessary.

This is a discussion post. It does not have a worksheet at the end. The clipart used in this post is by Little Red.

In English, there are verbs of being or “to be” verbs and these have different forms that depend on the tense and on whether the subject is singular or plural. The table below shows the positive “to be” verbs.

English "to be" Verbs (Positive)

It is claimed that the Filipino language does not have “to be” verbs. Oftentimes, in a Filipino sentence, the main verb that denotes the action already expresses the idea or context by the addition of one or more affixes and/or reduplication.

A Filipino affix is called panlapi and it may be added in front, in the middle, or at the end of the root word. These affixes are called unlapi (prefix), gitlapi (infix), and hulapi (suffix), respectively. Many Filipino words have more than one type of affix. As a result, a single root word can have many forms because of the wide variety and combinations of Filipino affixes.

For Filipino verbs, the common prefixes used are nag-, mag-, na-, ma-, um-, and in-. The infixes used for verbs used are -um- and -in-. The suffixes used for verbs are -in, -an, -hin, and -han. Aside from the verb tense, the choice of affix also depends on whether it is an actor-focus verb or an object-focus verb (see explanation below).

In linguistics, reduplication is a process in the formation of words where the whole root word or a segment of the root word is repeated. The Filipino word gabi-gabi (every night) is an example of reduplication where the whole root word gabi (night) is repeated. Reduplication in Filipino verbs changes the tense of the verbs. For example, reduplication of the first syllable of the root word sakay (ride) forms the future tense verb sasakay (will ride).

Reduplication of the first syllable, the first letter, or the first two letters of a root word also changes the meaning and/or tense of a verb. Consider the word bása (read) and look at the many forms it can take. Reduplication of the first syllable and infixation with bása gives binabasa [b(in)a + basa = object-focus, simple present tense, present continuous tense]. Both reduplication and prefixation with bása gives nagbabasa [nag + ba + basa = actor-focus, simple present tense, present continuous tense].

Filipino words with the root word basa (read)
Image by Little Red

The way a Filipino verb is conjugated denotes the tense, focus, and mood of the verb. Furthermore, other words used in the sentence give important context clues. Unlike English with its several tenses (simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous forms for past, present, and future verbs), the Filipino language mainly uses three tenses for verbs: past, present, and future. Adverbs and several Filipino enclitics (mga inklitik) are used together with the appropriate tense of the verb to express the other tenses.

In this first post about translating English verbs, I will discuss and give examples of translating English verbs in the simple past tense and past continuous tense. The present and future tenses will be the subjects of future posts.  

All translations are italicized and are place after the equals sign (=). Alternate forms of the sentence are separated with the forward slash (/). The second or third alternate forms are more commonly heard in conversation.


Most of the action verbs used in this post are actor-focus verbs, which means that the subject of the sentence (person or object) is the one doing the action expressed by the verb. If the action is done to a person or an object (they are the receiver of the action), the action verb is an object-focus verb. Actor-focus and object-focus Filipino verbs are conjugated differently. Object-focus verbs have different affixes compared to actor-focus verbs. This is similar to differentiating between verbs with the active voice and the passive voice.

Filipinos whose first language is Tagalog know how to differentiate between actor-focus and object-focus verbs. Even I get it wrong sometimes by using the object-focus verb instead of the actor-focus verb. Look at the ways the root word bigay (give) is transformed below according to tense and focus.


Some say that the Filipino word ay is not the equivalent of the “to be” verb is. Unlike is, the word ay can be used for both singular and plural subjects. People think of ay as merely a link (a ligature) between the subject and the predicate of the sentence.

The word ay is used in Filipino sentences where the subject comes before the predicate (di-karaniwang ayos ng pangungusap) for both singular and plural subjects.

1. Faye is beautiful. = Si Faye ay maganda.

2. Raul is my big brother. = Si Raul ay kuya ko.

3. Maria is reading in her room. = Si Maria ay nagbabasa sa kanyang kuwarto. [root word: basa; nag + ba + basa]

4. There is water in the kettle. It is boiling. = May tubig sa takure. Ito ay kumukulo. / Kumukulo ito. [root word = kulo; k(um)u + kulo]

5. You are a student. = Ikaw ay mag-aaral. / Ikaw ay estudyante.

6. Maria and Faye are friends. = Sina Maria at Faye ay magkaibigan.

7. The dogs are sleeping. = Ang mga aso ay natutulog. [root word: tulog; na + tu + tulog]

However, ay is not necessary when the predicate comes first before the subject or when the subject is inserted in the predicate (karaniwang ayos ng pangungusap). This is the most common way Filipinos talk. Note how the sentences above are rearranged and the word ay in each sentence is dropped.

8. Faye is beautiful. = Si Faye ay maganda. / Maganda si Faye.

9. Raul is my big brother. = Si Raul ay kuya ko. / Kuya ko si Raul.

10. Maria is reading in her room. = Si Maria ay nagbabasa sa kanyang kuwarto. / Nagbabasa sa kanyang kuwarto si Maria. / Nagbabasa si Maria sa kanyang kuwarto.

11. You are a student. = Ikaw ay mag-aaral. / Mag-aaral ka.

12. Maria and Faye are friends. = Sina Maria at Faye ay magkaibigan. / Magkaibigan sina Maria at Faye.

13. The dogs are sleeping. = Ang mga aso ay natutulog. / Natutulog ang mga aso.

The verb am is also represented by ay when used with the pronoun I or ako. The statements can also be rearranged to drop the ay.

14. I am a teacher. = Ako ay guro. / Guro ako.

15. I am hungry. = Ako ay gutom. / Gutom ako.

16. Am I wrong? = Ako ba ay mali? / Mali ba ako?


The simple past tense of verbs is used for actions that were started and completed in the past or conditions that were true in the past but are no longer true in the present. English verbs in the simple past tense have the suffix -ed, except for irregular verbs.

To express an action that has been done, the past tense form of the Filipino verb and an adverb of time are used. To make the past tense form of Filipino action verbs, the prefixes nag- , na-, or um- or the infix -um- is added. There is no reduplication of the first letter or syllable or the first two letters of the root word.

The simple past tense can refer to past actions and events that occurred during a specific point in time or a specific duration in time.

17. I swam a while ago. = Ako ay lumangoy kanina. / Lumangoy ako kanina. [root word = langoy; l(um)angoy]

18. She cooked yesterday. = Siya ay nagluto kahapon. / Nagluto siya kahapon. [root word = luto; nag + luto]

19. They watched a movie last night. = Sila ay nanood ng sine kagabi. / Nanood sila ng sine kagabi. [root word: nood; na + nood]

20. You slept all day. = Ikaw ay natulog buong araw. / Natulog ka buong araw. [root word: tulog; na + tulog]

21. I studied in Singapore for two years. = Ako ay nag-aral sa Singapore nang dalawang taon. / Nag-aral ako sa Singapore nang dalawang taon. [root word: aral; nag + aral]

The simple past tense can also be used to describe habits done in the past and events that are repeated in the past (but not anymore).

22. Chris played the piano when he was young. = Si Chris ay nagtugtog ng piyano noong bata siya. / Nagtugtog ng piyano si Cris noong bata siya. [root word: tugtog: nag + tugtog]

23. We went to the province every Christmas. = Kami ay pumunta sa probinsiya tuwing Pasko. / Pumunta kami sa probinsiya tuwing Pasko. [root word: punta; p(um)unta]


You might say that there are a lot of Filipino verbs in the past tense that have the prefix or infix in. You’re right! However, these past tense verbs are object focus verbs, not the actor focus verbs. This means that the action expressed by the verb is done on a person or object. In other words, another person/object is the receiver of the action. Examples of object-focus Filipino verbs in the past tense are shown below. The examples in this post focus on actor-focus verbs.

Let’s compare some actor-focus verbs with object-focus verbs in the simple past tense.

24. ACTOR FOCUS: Maria bought dresses. = Si Maria ay bumili ng mga bestida. / Bumili ng mga bestida si Maria. / Bumili si Maria ng mga bestida. [root word: bili; b(um)ili]

25. OBJECT FOCUS: The dresses were bought by Maria. = Ang mga bestida ay binili ni Maria. / Binili ni Maria ang mga bestida. [root word: bili; b(in)ili]

26. ACTOR FOCUS: Juan pushed me. = Si Juan ay ang tumulak sa akin. [root word: tulak; t(um)ulak]

27. OBJECT FOCUS: I was pushed by Juan. = Ako ay tinulak ni Juan. / Tinulak ako ni Juan. [root word: tulak; t(in)ulak]

28. ACTOR FOCUS: He sang for the audience. = Siya ay umawit para sa mga manonood. / Umawit siya para sa mga manonood. [root word: awit; um + awit]

29. OBJECT FOCUS: My song was sung by him. = Ang kanta ko ay inawit niya. / Inawit niya ang kanta ko. [root word: awit; in + awit]

The object-focus verbs have the prefix or infix IN, while the actor-focus verbs have the prefix or infix UM.


The past continuous tense, also called the past progressive tense, is formed by using the appropriate “to be” verb in the past tense (was/were) and the present participle of the action verb (verb + -ing). The past continuous tense talks about things that take place over a past time.

I was studying while the baby was sleeping.

There are no direct counterparts of the verbs was and were in Filipino. The past continuous tense form of a Filipino verb is the same as its present tense form since Filipino only has three tenses.

To make the present tense form of Filipino action verbs, the first syllable, first letter, or first two letters of the root word is reduplicated, and a specific prefix or infix is added. The prefixes may be nag-, na-, or um-. The infix -um- is inserted between the first two letters reduplicated. Reduplication is done first before prefixation or infixation.

For example, the present tense form of the Filipino verb with the root word aral (study) is nag-aaral [nag + a + aral, studying]. The first syllable (which is also the first letter in this case) is reduplicated [a + aral] and the prefix nag- is added [nag + aaral]. Since the root word starts with a vowel, a hyphen is used between nag and aaral so that the word is syllabicated correctly as nag-a-a-ral instead of na-ga-a-ral.

The past continuous tense expresses (1) two actions that were happening simultaneously,

30. I was studying while the baby was sleeping. = Ako ay nag-aaral habang ang sanggol ay natutulog. / Nag-aaral ako habang natutulog ang sanggol. [root word: aral; nag + a + aral] [root word: tulog; na + tu + tulog]

31. They were laughing and clapping at the show last night. = Sila ay tumatawa at pumapalakpak sa palabas kagabi. / Tumatawa at pumapalakpak sila sa palabas kagabi. [root word: tawa; t(um)a + tawa] [root word: palakpak; p(um)a + palakpak]

(2) an action that was happening (past continuous) when it was interrupted by another action or event in the simple past tense,

32. I was sleeping when you called last night. = Natutulog ako nang tumawag ka kagabi. [root word: tulog; na + tu + tulog]

33. While I was cooking, the phone rang. = Habang nagluluto ako, tumunog ang telepono. [root word = luto; nag + lu + luto]

34. You were reading when it rained. = Nagbabasa ka nang umulan. [root word = basa; nag + ba + basa]

35. She was singing when you arrived. = Umaawit siya nang dumating ka. [root word = awit; um + a + awit]

36. We were talking when Emily screamed. = Nag-uusap kami nang sumigaw si Emily. [root word: usap; nag- + u + usap]

(Note that instead of the adverb nang, people say noong or nung.)

or (3) something negative that often happened in the past.

37. He was always lying (not being truthful) to us. = Siya ay laging nagsisinungaling sa amin. / Lagi siyang nagsisinungaling sa amin. [root word; sinungaling; nag + si + sinungaling]

The past continuous tense is also used to express an action in progress interrupted by a specific time in the past.

38. You were still painting at noon yesterday. = Nagpipinta ka pa kahapon nang tanghali. [root word = pinta; nag + pi + pinta]

39. Last night at 11:00, the baby was still crying. = Kagabi nang 11:00, umiiyak pa ang sanggol. [root word = iyak; um + i + iyak]

Past continuous tense


It might seem strange to use the present tense form of the Filipino verb to describe actions or events in the past. So, to signal that the action was progressing during a span of some past time, other words (such as adverbs, adverbial phrases, or adverbial clauses) can be used. Note that there are no direct equivalents for was or were in Filipino, unless the word ay is used when the subject comes before the predicate.

40. Simple past tense: I wrote a letter this afternoon. = Ako ay sumulat ng liham kaninang hapon. / Sumulat ako ng liham kaninang hapon. [root word: sulat; s(um)ulat]

In the simple past tense, the writing action is over. It is a finished event, and the letter is done.

41. Past continuous tense: I was writing a letter this afternoon. = Ako ay sumusulat ng liham kaninang hapon. / Sumusulat ako ng liham kaninang hapon. [root word: sulat; s(um)u + sulat]

In the present continuous tense, the writing action is a process that continues through the afternoon, and the statement was said after the afternoon was over. However, we have no idea if the letter was finished.

The table below shows how some actor-focus past continuous verbs are translated to Filipino.

Past continuous tense examples


A special grammatical tense in the Filipino language is the panahunang katatapos.  Verbs in this grammatical tense imply that the action was just done or completed. In Filipino, a different prefix is used to express an action that was recently completed. How recently are we talking about? It can be a few seconds, moments, minutes, hours, or days ago.

For this tense, the prefix ka- is used with reduplication of the first syllable, first letter, or first two letters of the root word. The phrase pa lamang indicates that the action was just done or an event just happened. Note that a lot of people replace lamang with lang in conversation.

The sentences below also fall under the past continuous tense.

42. I was just cooking. = Kaluluto ko pa lamang. [root word = luto; ka + lu + luto]

43. You were just speaking. = Kasasalita mo pa lamang. [root word = salita; ka + sa + salita]

44. She was just eating. = Kakakain pa lamang niya. [root word = kain; ka + ka + kain]

45. They were just moving to the new house. = Kalilipat pa lamang nila sa bagong bahay. [root word: lipat; ka + li + lipat]


Another way to express the past continuous tense is to use the Filipino adverb noon (which means ‘then’ or ‘at that time’) with the present tense of the Filipino action verb. This is usually a response to the question “What were you doing at that time?”

46. I was cooking (then). = Ako ay nagluluto noon. / Nagluluto ako noon. [root word = luto; nag + lu + luto]

47. You were reading (then). = Ikaw ay nagbabasa noon. / Nagbabasa ka noon. [root word = basa; nag + ba + basa]

48. She was singing (then). = Siya ay kumakanta noon. / Kumakanta siya noon. [root word = kanta; k(um)a + kanta]

49. We were talking (then). = Tayo ay nag-uusap noon. / Nag-uusap tayo noon. [root word = usap; nag- + u + usap] The hyphen is used after the prefix and the root word if the root word begins with any of the vowels a, e, i, o, and u.

50. They were eating (then). = Sila ay kumakain noon. / Kumakain sila noon. [root word: kain; k(um)a + kain]

That’s it for now. I hope you learned something new about the Filipino language today. I will talk about translating present tense English verbs to Filipino in my next post.

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