Basahin itó sa
wikang Filipino


Baybayin Letters
The Consonants
The Kudlit
The Vowel Characters
Final Consonants
Special Consonants

The Spanish Kudlit
Foreign Words

Other Related Pages

Baybayin Main Article
How do I write my name?
Baybayin Styles
Old Baybayin Doc's
Free Baybayin Fonts
Baybayin Links



How to Write the Ancient Script of the Philippines

by Paul Morrow

The baybayin is not hard to write, but reading it is another matter. An early Spanish writer said that the baybayin "is as easy to write as it is difficult to read". This will be explained later. First, let's learn how to write.

A mistake people often make is to assume that the baybayin is just a neat looking alphabet; all you have to do is learn how draw the letters and then spell out the words in the language of your choice, and substitute each modern letter with a baybayin letter. However, the baybayin doesn't work like that. This is the difference between an alphabet and a syllabic writing system.

One Letter Equals One Syllable

In our modern alphabet, each letter is a basic sound or phoneme, either a vowel or a consonant. We combine these letters to make syllables, and combine the syllables to make words. In a syllabic writing system, such as the baybayin, each letter is already a syllable. It may be a combination of sounds or just a vowel, but usually it cannot be reduced to a single consonant. So, a good way to check your baybayin spelling is to make sure that the number of letters in a word always equals the number of syllables.

The Baybayin Characters

These are all the letters of the baybayin "alphabet". There are many ways to draw each letter (See Baybayin Styles). This example is my own modern composite of many old forms and the letters are arranged in the old abakada sequence. (See the original sequence in the main article.) 

The Consonants

Each consonant letter is one syllable that is pronounced with the a vowel. This means, for example, that the letter  is not just a b, it is actually the syllable ba. If we write the word basa (to read), we only need two letters:

and not four letters:

Here are a few more examples: (really, important, and able to do)

The Kudlít

So, what do we do if we want to write something that doesn't rhyme with a? In other syllabaries, like the Katakana or Hiragana of Japan, this would require learning a whole other set of letters for each vowel sound. However, the baybayin is a cross between a syllabary and an alphabet, or what is known as an abugida. We use the same consonant letters shown in the list above and simply combine them with a special mark, called a kudlít, to change the sound of the vowel a.

The word kudlit means a small cut or incision, which is exactly what it was back in the days when Filipinos wrote on bamboo. Since we now write with pen and paper, or a computer, the kudlit mark can be any shape. Usually it is a dot or tick, or sometimes it is shaped like a v or an arrowhead >. The sound of a letter is not changed in any way by the shape of the kudlit; it is changed by the position of the kudlit.

The kudlit is placed above a letter to signify the sound of I or E. As in the words:
 (self, miss as in unmarried woman, and tickle)


And to change the sound of a letter to U or O, the kudlit is placed below. As in the words:
(island, trouble, and opinion)

The Vowel Characters 

Although the kudlits do most of the work representing the vowels, the baybayin also has three special vowel letters:

Naturally, if a syllable doesn't have a consonant, there is no place to put the kudlit. This is when the vowel characters must be used. For example:
(mercy, to bring with, head, and possible)

There are only three vowels in the baybayin because ancient Filipinos of many linguistic groups did not distinguish between the pronunciations of I and E, and U and O before Spanish words entered their languages. Even today these sounds are interchangeable in words such as lalaki/lalake (man), babae (woman) and kababaihan (women in general), uód/oód (worm), punò (tree trunk) and punung-kahoy (tree), and oyaye/oyayi/uyayi (lullaby). The situation is similar in English; there are only five vowel letters but each one represents several different vowel sounds. (See the main article for more information.)

Final Consonants

Lone vowels have special characters but what about the consonants that have no vowel sound? These are the syllable final consonants and they are the reason why it is much more difficult to read the baybayin than it is to write it. There is no way to write syllable final consonants. For example, in a word like bundok (mountain) we cannot write the letters n and k because they are not followed by a vowel and the baybayin consonants always contain a vowel sound. If we did write the n and the k, the word would be pronounced bu-na-do-ka. So, we simply don't write those letters. The meaning of the word and its pronunciation must be guessed by reading it in context. Bundok is written:


Here are a few more examples:
(peak, riddle, ask)

Special Consonants

The letters d and ng were not special to the ancient Filipinos but they deserve special attention here to avoid confusion.

The Letter for Da and Ra 

There is only one character for both d and  r in the baybayin, the . The pronunciation of this letter in Tagalog changes depending on its location within a word. It follows the same Filipino grammatical rule that we have today; when a d is between two vowels, it becomes an r. There are many exceptions to this rule today, but it was more consistent in pre-Hispanic times.  For example, the word dangal (honour) becomes marangal (honourable) and the word dunong (knowledge) becomes marunong (knowledgeable), but the baybayin letter, does not change. 

Other Philippine languages had different ways to write the r sound. Some used the d/ra character while others used the la character or both. See the main article for more information.

The Letter for Nga 

The ng is considered a single letter in the modern Filipino alphabet but it requires two characters to write it, n and g. In the baybayin the ng really is a single character, , and it must be written that way. For example, if the word hanga (admiration) were spelled with n and g, it would be pronounced ha-na-ga. It should be written like this:



The only punctuation for the baybayin is a pair of vertical bars, || or a single vertical bar, | depending on the writer's taste. The vertical bar is used like a comma and a full stop (period). In fact, it can be used like any punctuation mark we have today. The ancient Filipinos usually wrote their words with no spaces between them but sometimes they would separate a single word between a set of bars. However, most of the time the bars were used in a random manner, dividing the sentences into word groups of various sizes.

The Spanish Kudlit +

To solve the problem of writing final consonants, a Spanish Friar named Francisco Lopez invented a new kind of kudlit in 1620.  It was shaped like a cross (which should be no surprise) and it was meant to be placed below a baybayin consonant letter in order to cancel its vowel sound. For example:
(mountain, peak, riddle, ask)

Filipinos never accepted this way of writing because it was too cumbersome and they were perfectly comfortable reading the old way. However, it is popular today among people who have rediscovered the baybayin but are not aware of the origin of the Spanish kudlit. (See the main article for more about the Spanish kudlit.)

Here's a verse from a modern song. On the left, the Spanish kudlit is used and the words have been separated to make it easier to read. The pre-Hispanic Filipino method of writing is on the right.


Filipinos in the pre-Hispanic era mainly used the baybayin for writing poetry and short messages to each other. It was never adapted for commerce or scientific data, so numerals were never developed. Numbers were spelled out the same as words. There is a document with numbers on the page entitled Baybayin Handwriting of the 1600s.

Writing Foreign Words

Writing non-Filipino words in the baybayin script can be difficult. Many sounds do not have letters in the baybayin and clusters of consonants, especially in English, cannot be written without modifing either the baybayin script or the English words. Strategies for writing non-Filipino words are discussed on the page entitled, How do I write my name in baybayin?

You can test your baybayin skills with Victor Quimson's online baybayin translator at Ating Baybayin. Just type any word you wish and it will show you how it is written in the baybayin script and provide tips for adapting it to non-Filipino words.


Paul Morrow
Paul Morrow
06 November 2002
Last updated: 26 January, 2005