Tagalog Prefixes, Infixes, Suffixes: Why Tagalog Verbs Drive Language Learners Crazy

What’s up with Tagalog verbs? To the language learner, Tagalog verbs can be plain crazy. It’s just all those crazy prefixes, infixes and suffixes which turn Tagalog verbs into a massive and messy mental exercise.

Here’s the deal. Tagalog, like most Austronesian languages, is what you call an “agglutinative language”, which in layman’s terms mean you can slap on certain sounds, which we shall call affixes (such as repeated syllables, prefixes, infixes and suffixes) to root words to change their meaning. Think of a Tagalog verb as a sticky ball of rice on to which you can keep slapping on more rice, meat and vegetables making something new, but it’s still basically a ball of rice. If you’ve already started studying Tagalog you are probably familiar with what I mean… for example tawa (to laugh) + (repeat first syllable) = tatawa (will laugh).

Scared yet? Don’t worry at the end of the article, I’m also going to give you five tips to help you start your journey to mastering Tagalog verbs at the end of the article.

These affixes – the repeated syllables, prefixes, infixes and suffixes which you slap on to your root word – seem reasonably simple at first glace. Sounds like nag-, -um-, -in which seem straightforward in their use. However, as soon as one starts digging deeper their complexity can baffle the unprepared. You can get one verb and slap on all sorts of prefixes, infixes and suffixes and that will change the tense, usage, and conotation of the word (there are more technical terms for this but let’s leave these out for now). For example, the verb takbo (meaning to run) + the infix um can be made into the word tumakbo, which equates to the simple past tense past tense ran. However you can also make that same verb takbo into a monster: nakikipagtakbuhan. Nakikipagtakbuhan means to “run at the same time with someone or something else, at a period of time in the past or the present, with the connotatation that the subject of the verb is running together or racing with the original runner”. A word like nakikipagtakbuhan is the kind of word that makes you want to run away from grammar doesn’t it?

What worsens your despair is hearing how native Tagalog speakers will use these “mutated” verbs in rapid succession without giving them a split second’s thought. It’s hard to give a definitive list with all the possible prefixes, infixes, and suffixes which you can slap on a verb, nor will I attempt such a mind-bending exercise. I’ll leave that job to linguists with thick glasses who have devoted much of their lives studying and writing thick grammar books. While studying the grammar of a foreign language has its own essential role, this site is more on learning Tagalog the natural way. Instead, what I’ll do is I’ll take a verb and just start shooting as many possible variations off the top of my head and see how far I can go.

I’ll choose the Tagalog verb kain or to eat and see how many permutations of this verb I can make by slapping of prefixes, infixes and suffixes.

kain (to eat, used as an invitation), tiga-kain (one designated to eat), kumakain (present progressive), kakain (will eat), kumain (imperative, simple past), kainan (a place or event where you eat), pakain-kain (to eat sporadically), pakain (event where you can eat, asking permission to eat), ipakain (makes someone eat something), pinapakain (feed regularly), kinain (past), papakainin (will feed), pagkain (infinitive, noun for food), pagpapakain (gerund), kakainin (something to eat in the future), papakainin (to allow to eat), magpapakain (to serve food or feed in the future), papakain (shortened form of magpapakain, used to connote it will be done in the near
future), kinakain-kain (something has been eaten sporadically in the past), kinainan (eating happened at a location), kinakainan (a place where people habitually eat), kinakain (it can be eaten, currently eating), Nakakain (has experienced eating something), Nagsikain (they began to eat, connotes, they weren’t eating before than suddenly they started eating), Magsikain (imperative, to a group of people asking them to eat), Pagkakain (having recently completed eating), kakainan (a place where eating will happen), kinakainkainan (eating sporadically happens at the location), nagpakain (past tense of pakain, to feed), nagpapakain (someone who habitually feeds something or someone else), magkainan (imperative, asking two or more people to have an eating event), nagkakainan (two or more were eating something or each other), nangangain (someone or something that eats something being referred to), nagsisikain (were in the process of eating, connoting they started eating at the time), magkakainan (two or more will eat each other, oh sounds sexy, if stress is on the second syllable, if stress is on the penultimate syllable an eating event will happen), magkakainkainan (will pretend to eat, or mock eating), and kainin (will eat, a direct imperative).

All this talk about food making you hungry? There isn’t any dish on the planet that’s more Tagalog than chicken adobo on rice.


Just to put things into context, let me throw up a chart with a few of the variations I just made.

KAIN – to eat
kain used as an invitation, or an instruction. Tara, kain tayo.

Come one. Let’s eat.

‘Wag kayo mahiya, kain lang kayo diyan.

Don’t be shy, have something to eat.

tiga-kain / taga-kain

(used interchangeably)

Noun – one designated to eat May baboy kami sa bukaran ang tiga-kain namin ng panis na pagkain

We have a pig out back (behind the house) that (is designated to) eat our spoiled food.

Allegic ako sa hipon, kaya paglumalabas kami at may hipon yung hinain, asawa ko ang taga-kain.

I’m allergic to shirmp so when I’m out of the house and there’s shimp in the food served, my husband/wife eats it for me.

kumakain Present or

Present progressive, an ongoing action

Hindi ako muslim, kumakain ako ng baboy.

I’m not a muslim, I eat pork.

Kumakakain si Mark sa ilalim ng puno.

Mark is eating under the tree.

Kakain Future tense Pagdating ko sa bahay, kakain ako.

When I get home, I’m going to eat.

Kakain ako ng lechon pagdating ng Pasko.

I will eat roast pig on Christmas.

Kumain imperative when combined with a pronoun, simple past Kumain ka, kailangan mo magpalakas.

Eat, you need to build up your strength.

Kumain ako kaninang umaga.

I ate this morning.

kainan Noun – a place or event where you eat

Connotes an event where the main activity is to eat

Nagbukas yung tatay ko ng maliit na kainan sa kanto.

My father opened a small eatery at the street corner.

May kainan bukas sa munisipyo kasi bertday ng mayor.

There will meals served at city hall tomorrow since it will be the mayor’s birthday.

pakain-kain to eat sporadicly, connotes there is no strong intent, or it was done without much effort Wala siyang ginawa sa opisina ngayon, pakain-kain lang buong araw.

He didn’t do anything in the office today, he just munched on snacks the whole day.

Madalas ‘pag Linggo sa bahay lang ako, pakain-kain at patulog-tulog lang.

Usually on Sundays I just say at home, and eat and sleep the whole day.

pakain Noun – event where you can eat usually connoting it will be done for free, or used when asking permission to eat, or asking someone to do something as short for ‘ipakain’ Kapag pista dito, lahat ng bahay may pakain, kahit sino pwedeng makisalo.

When it’s fiesta time here, all house serve food for guest, anyone can come and eat.

Pakain ka naman sa bagong bukas mong restawran.

You should treat us to some food at your newly-opened restaurant.

Pakain mo sa mga baboy ang natirang kanin.

Feed the leftover rice to to the pigs.

ipakain makes someone or something eat something Ipakain mo sa mga baboy ang natirang kanin.

Feed the leftover rice to to the pigs.

Ipakain mo sa kasintahan mo ang mahiwagan isda na ito, iibigin ka niya habang buhay.

Feed your sweetheart this magic fish, she will love you your as long as she lives.

pinapakain feed regularly, or was in the act of feeding


Pinapakain ko ang mga halagang ibon ng nanay ko araw-araw.

I feed my mother’s pet birds every day.

Nakita ko si Anna kahapon sa kalsada, pinapakain niya anak niya ng kendi.

I saw Anna on the street yesterday feeding her child candy.

kinain past Kinain mo ba ang ang manok ng kuya mo?

Did you eat your older brother’s chicken?

Kinain ko ang masanas kahapon.

I ate the apple yesterday.

papakainin will feed Papakainin kita ng totoong pagkaing pinoy kung sasama ka sa akin sa Pilipinas.

I’ll give you a taste of real Filipino food if you come with me to the Philippines.

Papakain ko ang aso pagdating ko sa bahay.

I’ll feed the dog when I get home.

pagkain Infinitive, present


Not to be confused with the noun for food

Ang pagkain ng prutas at gulay araw at mabuti.

Eating fruits and vegetables is good.

Ang pagkain (verb) ng masasarap na pagkain (noun) ay isa sa mga dahil kung bakit nabubuhay ang tao.

To eat delicious food is one of the reasons man lives.

(noun) Pahingi naman ng pagkain.

Please give me some food.



The road to tagalog verb mastery looks tough, but fear not, here are five tips to help you swing through the learning curve with flying colors!

  1. Learn by listening to native speakers

There is no substitute to listening to native Tagalog speakers in a “natural environment” using these verbs. At first it may sound that you might as well be listening to a non-stop barrage of incomprehensible utterance, but you can start by focusing on just picking out one word at the time. Eventually, you’ll start picking out phrases. Then, entire sentences. You Tagalog will only progress the more you listen,.

I have to caution you that while it’s tempting to think we can pick up a foreign language totally from just from exposure or interaction with native speakers, doing some “book learning” or learning the rules behind language and looking at the language in a written form can greatly help you shorten the learning curve. I have a lot of transcribed excerpts in Tagalog just for the purpose of practicing to listen.

  1. Start with a few set phrases, then learn the rules later on

Learning a few examples of Tagalog verbs in the form of set phrases will help you get the ball rolling. I believe that a profound change happens in the mind once you take a language concept off the pages of a book, and throw it into a real live interaction or conversation. It helps you get the “feel” of the grammar point.

I am a big believer in phrase books and memorizing a few pre-formulated sentences. Confidence in a language is also something you develop over time, and is one of the most overlooked features of language learning.

  1. Even if you can’t speak them yet, you can learn to recognize them first

Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing. These are four overlapping but different skills. The same goes with Tagalog verbs. As you start your progression in learning Tagalog, you’ll probably learn to understand what you hear and read, more than what you can say speak and write. This is perfectly normal. Go with the flow.

  1. Don’t try learning everything at once

It’s a big pot of rice you have to eat, and you can’t humanly eat it all at once. Learn a few tenses at the time. Start with the tenses or affixes which come most natural to you. It’s not cheating. It’s leveraging what you already know or can easily understand.

  1. Practice, practice, practice

Like any life skill, getting a grasp of Tagalog verbs and indeed the language itself takes time. You are only getting better at something the more you practice. And the great thing is native speakers will nine out of ten times (or more like ninety nine out of a hundred times) appreciate you for the effort, even if they will try to answer back in English. Just keep at it, tiger!

BONUS TIP – I love you guys so much I have to throw in a bonus tip. Didn’t I say I was cool guy?

BONUS: Make mistakes, many of them

I’ll throw in a bonus tip for you, and perhaps on a deeper level this may be the most important tip of them all. Make mistakes. Probably they’ll understand you, maybe a few times they won’t, but you have to try and keep applying what you know.

The fear of looking stupid has kept many of us from achieving greater heights. We all want to have that perfect, witty Tagalog conversation with a native speaker, but believe me, it’s not just going to happen straight from a book to reality, no matter how much you practice alone in your room. You have to make mistakes. Many mistakes. In fact I believe in speaking Tagalog from day one.

So here’s my conclusion…

So there it is folks. Tagalog verbs can be a scary, but a language is a beautiful thing, it’s a product of a people and a culture. You just have to get over our initial fear and jump in the deep end. While the road is long, there are many flowers along the way. Imagine all the sense of achievement and fun you can have it gems like nagkakainan or nangangain.

Feel free to leave a comment or question below if there’s something you’d like to add or ask. If there are any learners or native speakers out there who would like to add to my list of the different permutations of the Tagalog verb kain, please feel free to add those in the comments.

Booyah, till next time TTC (Talk Tagalog community)!


Recommended Further Reading

We just talked a lot about food. Now how about practicing your listening skills with this transcript of this news report about the Maginhawa Food Street or Filipino Cold Streets. There is a little neat quiz after each article you can take to test your learning.

Or you can something on the broader level like, Why Should You Learn Tagalog?

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