6 Untranslatable Tagalog Words Explained

Updated on February 6, 2018
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When Precy is not recounting the legends of plants and animals, you can find her watching her favorite series on The Filipino Channel.

Boracay, Malay, Philippines
Boracay, Malay, Philippines | Source

Untranslatable words are one aspect of the Filipino language that never fail to create questions. This is because they don't have an exact English translation, making it a bit challenging for native speakers to explain their meaning to non-native speakers.

What are these Tagalog words with no English equivalent? Read on and brush up on your Tagalog with these untranslatable Tagalog words. I can't translate them, but I will do my best to explain them.



The word when said by itself means the speaker doesn't want to be bothered with questions, or wants one to do what they say without asking any questions in response. Say basta if you don't want to explain why you did what you did, or why you came up with such decision or plan. Basta.

Partnered with the pronoun ikaw (you), the meaning changes.

"Basta ikaw!" is a response one would say after "thank you," and means, "I did the favor you asked," or, "I helped you because we're close. You're someone dear to me and I wouldn't say no as long as it's you."



It's a little hard to explain when or how to use naman in Tagalog, but you'll see that this word is often used with the five W questions. Add naman after any of the five W questions to subtly, instead of blatantly, ask why, when or what. You can also use it with just about any question. Try using it with wala (none/no) and meron (there is/are or has/have), although it's not necessary, because not using naman wouldn't change the meaning of your question.

The word is also used with intensified adjectives. Want to say something but don't want to sound bossy? No worries. Use naman to soften it and make it more of a request.

What Is an Intensified Tagalog Adjective?

An intensified Tagalog adjective is formed with a root word and comes after either -ang, -napaka or -ang with the root word repeated twice. Of course, there's more ways of intensifying, but this is just one example.

With Questions
Intensified Adjectives
Making requests
Bakit (Why) naman?
Ang ikli (So short) naman.
Magluto ka (You cook) naman.
Paano (How) naman?
Napakayaman (So rich) naman.
Maglinis ka (You clean) naman.
Masaya (Happy) naman?
Ang yaman yaman (So rich) naman.
Smile ka (You smile) naman.


Pala is used to express surprise at new or different information. The intonation of the word matters, as if it is not said correctly it could mean the English word "shovel."

"Siya nga pala"

Say this when introducing a new topic in conversation. In English, it can be loosely translated to, "By the way."

You can also use pala to express acknowledgement of a forgotten thing, a sort of, "Oh yeah huh!"



Pronunciation matters, as the word can also mean "can" if not pronounced correctly. Kaya in Tagalog is used to express curiosity or during a situation when you think about or ponder something.

Bakit kaya? (I wonder why?)

Partnered with pala, the word means something else. That's why there's "Kaya pala." This is why kaya has earned its spot as a Tagalog word that doesn't have an exact English translation.



Nga is used to stress the answer of a question the speaker has already answered. The intonation of the speaker is usually irritated. Who wouldn't be?

Wala nga. (I said there's none)

It is also used to agree with or confirm that what was previously said is true. When used this way, it can be loosely translated to English as, "Indeed."

Be pesky use nga. Adding nga after any of the five W questions, how, how many or which, will do the trick.



A word that is added to questions to add stress. You can add ba to almost any question. It is used with the five W questions, how, how many and even which. Ba comes after adjectives and nouns. There are also certain pronouns that ba follows after.

Aside from stressing a question, it won't really affect the question being asked if you don't use ba. Using it makes the question sound just right, but don't stress too much about when to use ba.

Ba follows after pronouns
Ba after 5W questions, how, how many, which
After nouns/adjectives
Sa iyo ba 'yan? (Is that yours?)
Bakit (Why) ba?
Malinis (Clean) ba?
Gutom ka ba? (Are you hungry?)
Sino (Who) ba?
Pagkain (Food) ba?
Sa amin ba 'yan? (Is that ours?)
Kailan (When) ba?
Mabait (Nice/Kind) ba?
Ikaw ba 'yan? (Is that you?)
Ano (What) ba?
Pera (Money) ba?

Again, intonation and the situation in which you use this word matters, as it can change the meaning of the question being asked. Asking "Ano (What) ba?" in a calm tone can be used to simply ask what to do. But saying it in an irritated intonation to someone being pesky means, "Cut it out!"

© 2017 precy anza


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    • peedshane74 profile image

      Shane Peed 8 months ago from Ft. Dodge, IA USA

      I will be there in two weeks for a month and will try that and see what they say. :)

    • precy anza profile image

      precy anza 8 months ago from USA

      Or surprise them and use one of these :) Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your story.

    • peedshane74 profile image

      Shane Peed 8 months ago from Ft. Dodge, IA USA

      I had to laugh at a couple of these I lived in the Philippines for about 3 years and the nga always was a tough one for me. Now if I hear my employees there say Basta I will now what they are saying. I visit there regularly now and will remember this article when I hear those words.

      Thanks for the article it was interesting.