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Filipino Idioms - 30 Examples of Commonly Used Tagalog Idiomatic Expressions

Updated on February 26, 2020
precy anza profile image

Precy enjoys helping others learn to speak and appreciate the Filipino language. She also speaks Ilocano.

Filipino/Tagalog idioms explained.
Filipino/Tagalog idioms explained. | Source

Filipino/Tagalog Idioms

Learning idioms may not sound appealing to a foreign language learner as an idiom often conveys a meaning entirely different from the literal meaning. There is always a hidden message waiting to be unlocked and understood for every idiom. Filipino idioms aren't different. Known as sawikain in Filipino, the country's national language, Filipino idioms are still pretty much used these days. While most means differently than their literal meaning, some of these somehow gives off a hint where the word reflects the idiom's meaning.

Tagalog or Filipino idioms, often comprised of group of words with a meaning that completely has nothing to do with any of the words in the phrase. To a Filipino language learner, these idioms might sound discouraging to learn and most likely maybe last on the list, but they are a great way to step up a bit on the learning process. The reward of learning Filipino idioms? Being able to understand some of these idioms once heard or spoken allowing you to blend in more and carry out conversations without feeling left out.

With that said, challenge yourself as you continuously learn the Filipino language by learning these idioms. Impress and surprise your friends what you've learned. This time, with Tagalog idioms. What are the commonly used Filipino idioms? That, in this list of 30 commonly used Filipino idioms with their literal meaning, what they really mean and their English counterpart if there is. Some includes examples too.

Balat sibuyas

Balat means skin. The word is also used in Filipino when referring to fruit rinds or outer cover of vegetables and root crops. Sibuyas means onions. But putting up together, this Filipino idiom means a sensitive person. 'Balat sibuyas' literally means 'onion skin.'


Kutong lupa

The Filipino word kuto refers to head louse while lupa means soil and is also used to refer to the ground. Putting these two words together giving us our idiom 'kutong lupa' literally means 'soil louse' or 'ground louse.' An idiom that is often used by someone irritated when referring to small kids.

Ang ingay ng mga kutong lupa na 'to!

These kids are too noisy!

Maamong tupa

The first word is a Filipino adjective that means domesticated. Tupa on the other hand means sheep. 'Maamong tupa' literally means domesticated sheep. A Filipino idiom that has nothing to do with the sheep but most likely mirrors how sweet looking these animals are. Maamong tupa is your Filipino idiom for someone playing goody goody.

The close English counterpart for this Filipino idiom is 'A wolf in sheep's skin.' That someone pretending to be sweet, nice and harmless.

Para siyang maamong tupa kapag andyan ka.

She's like a sweet angel when you're around.


Matabil ang dila

As they say, words can be as sharp as a sword. An idiom fit for anyone with, as they say, sharp tongue as this idiom literally means. Matabil means sharp while dila is for tongue. Another idiom synonymous to this is 'matalas ang dila.' An outspoken person who say what's in her mind without a care about people's feelings.


Nagpanting ang tenga

Have you ever heard something that made your blood boil? This is exactly your Filipino idiom for that. An idiom worth keeping in mind just in case you hear something that suddenly made you irritated, upset or mad sending your blood rushed up to your ears - the meaning of 'nagpanting ang tenga.' Some also spells tenga as tainga.

Nagpanting ang tainga ko sa narinig ko.

What I heard made my blood boil.

Kalapating mababa ang lipad

Literally means 'low flying doves' and is a popular euphemism of the word prostitute. A Filipino idiom commonly used for those ladies of night or women of the night.


Siya ay isang kalapating mababa ang lipad.

She's a prostitute.

Balat kalabaw

A Tagalog idiom that literally means 'carabao skin.' Although it doesn't have anything to do with the hard working domesticated water buffalo, it probably has something to do with how seemingly thick a water buffalo's skin is. 'Balat' is your word for skin and 'kalabaw' means carabao. A Filipino idiom for someone who is insensitive or shameless.


Isang kahig isang tuka

What do chickens have to do with this idiom? Have you ever noticed the way chickens eat? They don't stock up food or grain they find as they scratch the soil but eats up everytime they find something. 'Isang kahig isang tuka,' is a Tagalog idiom used to describe the life of those who don't have sufficient money to live a standard life, being in a hand-to-mouth situation, the poor earning just enough for a day. This idiom means just having enough or barely enough to get by.

'Isang kahig isang tuka,' literally means 'one scratch on the ground one peck.'


Dating isang kahig isang tuka ang pamilya nila.

Their family used to be poor.

Magsunog ng kilay

A Filipino idiom often used by parents to their kids when reminding them to study hard. Yes, an idiom that has something to do with doing good academically.

'Magsunog ng kilay' literally means to 'burn eyebrows.' Often used as well amongst students to congratulate or tease that one friend who passed the exam with flying colors, as clearly he/she stayed up late at night burning eyebrows. I mean, studying very hard.

Magsunog ka ng kilay para sa final exam.

Study hard for the final exam.

Pinagbiyak na buko

'Pinagbiyak na buko' is your idiom fit for anyone who looks exactly the same or wearing the same outfit. Yes, like twins.

Pinagbiyak is your word meaning cut in halves while buko refers to the young, green coconut.

Para silang pinagbiyak na buko.

They look like twins.


Takaw tingin

Have you ever filled your plate with food more than you can handle? Well, it all looks good. A Filipino idiom fit just for you - takaw tingin. With the first word being greedy or gluttonous in Filipino, the second word 'tingin' means look.

Tulog mantika

Have you ever seen a solid cooking oil? No matter how you shake it, it wouldn't budge. This Filipino idiom is the perfect counterpart of the English idiom 'sleeping like a log' or 'sleeping like a rock.'

Tulog means sleep and mantika is your Filipino word for cooking oil. Tulog mantika literally means sleeping like a cooking oil.

Tulog mantika ka.

You sleep like a log.


Matamis ang dila

An idiom fit for the sweet talkers. Yes, this Filipino idiom means a sweet talker. It literally means sweet tongue. Matamis is your Filipino word for sweet and dila means tongue.

Matamis ang dila niya.

He is a sweet talker.

Makapal ang mukha

Literally translates in English as 'thick face.' An idiom you'll likely hear used in arguments or quarrels. Fit for anyone at fault seemingly unashamed, or still has the guts to show up.

Makapal ang mukha mong pumunta dito!

You have the guts to show up here!

Gintong kutsara

'Gintong kutsara' literally translates to golden spoon. Another Filipino idiom that has something to do with someone being born wealthy. A Filipino idiom with an English counterpart 'born with a silver spoon.'

Ipinanganak siyang may gintong kutsara sa bibig.

She was born wealthy.


Dugong bughaw

One that you're most likely familiar with knowing that this Tagalog idiom translates in English as 'blue blooded.' Dugong bughaw doesn't mean literally having blue blood running through the veins. It means someone being of a royalty, or being a part of a family of high social rank.

Patay gutom

Literally means 'dead hungry' but of course, has nothing to do with either words. 'Patay gutom' is an idiom used in referring to someone poor or poverty stricken. Those who can barely get by with foods and daily needs.

Ipot sa ulo

Know someone who is being cheated on? This Filipino idiom could be a way to say so. 'Ipot sa ulo' also 'iniiputan sa ulo' literally means poop or shit in the head. Chopping it by words, ipot means poop and 'sa ulo' tells you exactly where - in the head.

Iniiputan sa ulo si Dan ng asawa niya.

Dan is being cheated on by his wife.


Panakip butas

The Filipino idiom that suits any person being in a rebound relationship. Yes, the key word was just mentioned. 'Panakip butas' means rebound.

Panakip butas ka lang.

You're just a rebound.


Nagmumurang kamatis

A Filipino idiom fit for my friend's mom who dresses up like a teenager. Of course, that was just a sentence example to convey the meaning of this idiom easily.

This Filipino idiom is aiming for an adult woman that isn't dressing up or acting properly to her age. An idiom I've heard many times when referring to a grown up woman not dressing approprite her age, but of how a teen or young lady would - parang nagmumurang kamatis which translates to just like how a young lady would. This idiom literally refers to the green unripe tomato. From the Filipino root word mura which means unripe and kamatis for tomato.

Para siyang nagmumurang kamatis kung magdamit.

She's like a young lady the way she dresses up.

Palay at manok

This literally means rice and chicken, with the first word referring to rice and the second word to chicken. An idiom that is used when referring to a male and a female. This Filipino idiom isn't uncommon to hear from parents playing cupids pairing up their kids. Palay refers to female and chicken for male.


Palay na ang lumalapit sa manok.

It's now the girl that is making a move on a guy.

Butas ang bulsa

Got no money? Say it through this commonly used Filipino idiom that means broke. Literally means 'hole in the pocket' but has nothing to do with that. Butas is your Filipino word for hole and bulsa for pocket.


Bakit parang laging butas ang bulsa mo?

Why is it that you seems to be always broke?

Haligi ng tahanan

This idiom has been used so much even these days when referring to dad. With a close relation of how a post makes a strong hold of the house or home, so are dads being the man of the house. Haligi is your word meaning post and tahanan referring to home, this idiom's literal meaning is 'post of the home.' A Filipino idiom referring to the man of the house that is keeping the family strong together, just like a post.


Isa siyang mabuting haligi ng tahanan.

He is a good father.

Ilaw ng tahanan

An idiom that literally means 'light of the home.' A Filipino idiom fit for a mom being the light of the home as they provide love, guidance and care for the family. Getting to know each words, ilaw is your word for light while tahanan means home.

Isa siyang mabuting ilaw ng tahanan.

She is a good mother.


Dilang anghel

Have you ever wish what someone said comes true? This is your idiom fit for that. 'Dilang anghel' means wishing that something that was said comes true. Dila means tongue while anghel is your Tagalog word for angel. This idiom literally means 'angel tongue.'

Sana magdilang anghel ka.

I wish what you said comes true.


Pagputi ng uwak

Literally means 'once the crow turns white.' We all know that it wouldn't happen and that is somehow reflected in this Filipino idiom. An idiom to put up your sleeve and put it in use when you mean to say something is most likely wouldn't happen or come true.

Baka darating sila pagputi ng uwak.

They will probably never come.

Namamangka sa dalawang ilog

Your Filipino idiom that means 'two-timer' or having a relationship with two different people at the same time. Cheater or unfaithful.

Bukod kay Anna ay may isa pa siyang nobya. Namamangka siya sa dalawang ilog.

Aside from Anna he still has another girlfriend. He's a two-timer.


Labas sa ilong

'Labas sa ilong' literally means 'out of the nose.' A Filipino idiom meaning what was being said isn't true or the person didn't mean what he/she said. Those are just words.

Labas sa ilong ang sinabi niya.

She didn't mean what she said.


'Bantay-salakay' means waiting until the coast is clear before doing what you want to be done. The first word means guard or being on guard and salakay means raid or attack. That person who raids the fridge but waits first for everyone to retire for the night is one good example - bantay salakay.

Kwentong barbero

A Filipino idiom that means hearsay, gossip or a story that isn't true. Literally means 'barber story.' Kwento is your Filipino word for story and barbero for barber.

Kwentong barbero lang 'yan.

That's just a rumor.



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    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      23 months ago from USA

      Yes they are indeed interesting @Linda :) And I did learn few other English idioms along the way while writing this. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      24 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think that English idioms are very interesting. I can see that Filipino ones are, too! Thank you for sharing the idioms and their meanings.


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