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6 Untranslatable Tagalog Words Explained

Updated on June 20, 2017

Untranslatable words, one aspect of the Filipino language that never fails to gain how and when questions when it comes to using them. That is because they don't have an exact English translation, making it a bit challenging for native speakers to explain but enticing learners.

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



The word when said just by itself means that the speaker doesn't want to be bothered with questions, or don't want to be asked - just do as I say without asking any questions. Say basta if you don't want to explain yourself, why you did what you did or why you came up with such decision or plan, you get it. Basta.

"Basta ikaw!"

Partnered with the pronoun ikaw (you), the meaning changes. It is a response after a "Thank you," which means "I did the favor you asked or I helped you because we're that close. You're someone dear to me and I wouldn't say no as long as it's you."


Intensified Tagalog adjective?

An intensified Tagalog adjective is formed with just its root word after either ang, napaka or ang with the root word repeated twice. Of course there's more way of intensifying but just an example.

Get back on the topic.


A little bit hard to explain on when or how to use naman in Tagalog, but you'll see this one often used with the 5W questions. Add naman after any of the five-w questions to ask in a more subtle way instead of blatantly asking why, when or what. Use it too with just any question. Try using it as well with wala (none/no) and meron (there is/are or has/have).

And although it's not necessary, as not using naman wouldn't change the meaning, the word is also used with intensified adjectives. Want to say something but you don't want to sound bossy? No worries. Use naman to soften it making it more of a request.

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.


Used to express being surprise finding an information different to what the speaker thinks. Intonation of the word matters however as it could mean the English word shovel.

"Siya nga pala"

Say this when introducing another topic different from what was previously being talked about - the English "by the way." Use this as well to express acknowledgement of a forgotten task when being reminded - "Oh yeah huh!"



Pronunciation matters as the word can also mean can. Kaya in Tagalog is used to express curiosity,or that situation when you think about or ponder about something.

Bakit kaya? (I wonder why?)

Partnered with pala, the word means something else. That's why - Kaya pala. Got it now why the word earned its spot as one of the Tagalog words that doesn't have an exact English translation? That's why.



The word is used to stress out the answer the speaker has previously given when being asked repeatedly. Also note that the intonation of the speaker is usually irritated. Who wouldn't be if someone keeps asking the question you already answered?

Wala nga. (I said there's none)

It is also used to agree to what was previously said and is used to confirm that what was said by another person is true - indeed.

Be pesky and insist a question being dodge with basta - use nga. Adding nga after any of the 5w questions, how, how many or which will do the trick.



A word that is added to questions to add stress. And I mean almost any question. It is used with the 5w questions, how, how many and even which. Ba comes after adjectives and nouns. There are also certain pronouns where ba follows after.

Aside from stressing out the question, it won't really affect the question being asked if you don't use ba. Using it makes the question sound just right. So don't stress out 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, even situation matters as it helps into interpreting the question being asked. Asking "Ano (What) ba?" in a calmer tone means simply just asking what to do. But saying it in an irritated intonation to someone being pesky means "Cut it out!"


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    • peedshane74 profile image

      Shane Peed 7 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 7 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 7 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.