Is the "Ay" Marker in Tagalog the Same as the English Verb "To be"?

One of the most common markers in the Tagalog language is ay. It may appear as if ay  is the equivalent of the English verb "to be", because, for example, the literal translation of a phrase like ako ay Pilipino is "I am  Filipino". However, in reality, far from being a verb, let alone the verb "to be", which doesn't really exist in Tagalog, the function of ay is simply to invert the order of a phrase, and in the example above ako ay Pilipino is merely the inverted form of Pilipino ako. In other words, because in Tagalog there is no such thing as the verb "to be", such phrases as "I am Italian", "she is beautiful" or "Mario is a doctor" in Tagalog have no verb and are literally rendered as "Italian I" ("Italiano ako"), "beautiful she" ("maganda siya") and "doctor Mario" ("doktor si Mario"). The "ay" marker simply switches the order of such phr

Verbal Aspect vs Tense in Tagalog

As I have mentioned in my post, while in the English language there are both tenses (past, present and future) and aspects (simple, continuous, perfect and perfect continuous) of the verb, in Tagalog there is nothing but verbal aspect.

Tenses are concerned with whether a certain action has occurred in the past, is happening in the present or will happen in the future.

Aspects in Tagalog verbs merely convey the idea that a certain action has been completed, it is in progress or it is contemplated.

For example, if I say "kumain ako", the idea here is that I have completed the action of eating: the hearer has no clue whether the action was completed 2 seconds ago, 2 centuries ago or 2 millennia ago.

If I say "kakain ako", I am simply stating my intention to eat no matter if I'll do the action 5 seconds from now or 30 years from now: I am simply stating the fact that the action is "contemplated".

A nice way to illustrate the difference between a tense and the verbal aspect is the example of the boss of a company and the secretary (which I've found on the Tagalog page of the official website of the department of Asian studies of the University of Illinois): the boss of a company is only concerned with whether his employee has done his job or not, the secretary is concerned with when the employee did his job because she has to calculate the amount of his paycheck. Similarly the verbal aspect only communicates if a certain action has been done or not while a tense communicates when the action has taken place or will take place.

The fact that in Tagalog there are no tenses but just aspects makes Tagalog verbs a lot easier to learn than verbs in many Western languages.

I have a post in this blog where I briefly gloss over verbal aspect and verbal focus in Tagalog (

In the future I'll post more detailed articles about the Tagalog grammar.


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