The Vowels
The Consonants
Accent Marks
Stress Classification


Canadian Spelling

Ang Pinagmulan ng mga
  Wika ng Filipinas
Ang Sabi ni Shakespeare
Mga Salitang Siyokoy
Sa Madaling Sabi


A Brief Guide to Filipino Pronunciation

by Paul Morrow

Many people who study the Filipino language outside the Philippines do not have access to formal lessons and must resort to a "teach-yourself" method. One can learn a lot this way but there is no substitute for listening to and conversing with real Pinoys when it comes to pronunciation. Even then, they can't be expected to have the patience to answer every single question that a student may have. So, to get the most from your reading material you must be able to determine the proper pronunciation of a word just by reading it on the page.

The Vowels

There are only five vowel sounds in the Filipino national language. (Some of the provincial languages have other vowel sounds that are unique to themselves but that is beyond the scope of this article.) In short, if you are familiar with the vowel sounds of Spanish or Italian, you already know how to pronounce the Filipino vowels.

The vowels are pronounced as follows:


like the u in up and cut (in the majority of English dialects)


like the e in end and bed


like the i in machine and marine


like the o in old and sold


like the u in rude and oo in moon

It is important to remember that the vowels should be pronounced in a very pure, clean way. A vowel should not change while it is being voiced. For example, in English we tend to close our lips to form a w sound when we finish the vowel o. Words like “go”, “no” and “so” are pronounced to rhyme with “owe”. To avoid this problem, practise saying the vowels one by one and remember that once you have shaped your mouth for a particular vowel sound, no part of your mouth should move while you are voicing the vowel. Do not move your lips, teeth, tongue or jaw. This is the key to sounding like a real Filipino.

Also, the Filipino vowel letters are never combined to create a different vowel sound (except in foreign words). Each vowel indicates a separate syllable. So, the number of vowels in a word matches the number of syllables. However, there are a few exceptions (see Irregularities below).

The Consonants

Most of the consonant letters in Filipino are pronounced the same way as in English. As a foreigner you can easily be understood if you pronounce them all this way but to really get the Filipino sound you must make some adjustments.

K, P & T

In English we aspirate the letters k, p and, t. That means that we tend to release some air when we pronounce these sounds. These letters are not as explosive in Filipino. This light Filipino sound can be heard in English words where these letters follow an s. For example, “skate”, “spare” and, “stand”.

D, L, N & T

The letters d, l, n, and, t are pronounced in a slightly different way too. In English we place the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper front teeth for these sounds but in Filipino the tip of the tongue is placed lightly on the edge of the upper front teeth. Again, it is a lighter sound than the English equivalents.

The Letter R

The Filipino r is very different from the English r. It is sounded by flicking the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper front teeth. (Once you get the hang of it, you will understand the special relationship between the Filipino letters r and d.) This r sound can be compared to the double d in "ladder" but only if the word is not over-enunciated. Some Filipinos, especially in the north, really roll their r's by rapidly repeating this action in a machine gun fashion. Others roll their r’s from the back of the throat. However, these variations are not important to a student and may even seem like an affectation when sounded by a non-Filipino. Only a single flick of the tongue is necessary.

The Letter NG

This is a single letter in the Filipino alphabet and its sound is not at all foreign to the English speaker. It can be found in words such as “sing” and “hang” etc. The difficulty for non-Filipinos is that the ng sound is often at the beginning of a word or a syllable. Here is a trick to learn this sound. It works as long as you don’t pronounce the word “sing” with a hard g.

Repeat the words “sing along” several times together in a continuous flow:
Sing-along, sing-along, sing-along, etc…

Now remove the last syllable “long” and repeat several times:
Singa, singa, singa, etc…

Now remove the first two letters “si” and repeat several times while making sure that the sound of the letter Y does not creep into your pronunciation.
Nga, nga, nga, etc… 
Now you’ve got it!

Try to say the following words: ngayón, ngipin, ngunit.

The Accent Marks (Mga Tuldík)

The handiest tool for learning any language is a dictionary. All good Filipino dictionaries include accent marks or mga tuldík for each entry. It is important for any non-Filipino, and non-Tagalog too, to know what each of the tuldík marks signify. Once you know these marks and the Filipino vowels and consonants, you can pronounce almost any word properly without ever hearing it spoken by a Filipino.

If you have ever studied Filipino pronunciation before, you may have been bewildered by terms such as malumay, malumì, mabilís, maragsâ or mariín. These terms are used mainly by grammarians to classify words based on how they are pronounced. The good news is that you don’t need to know any of these terms if you just want to pick up a dictionary and find out how to pronounce a word. (However, we will discuss these terms later for those who are interested.) Let’s begin.

There are three basic accent marks (mga tuldík) in Filipino dictionaries. These are:


Pahilís (Acute)


Paiwà (Grave)


Pakupyâ (Circumflex)

These marks are placed above vowels only and they do not change the sound of the vowels as they do in other languages such as French. They merely mark which syllables should be stressed or if a vowel should be clipped short with a glottal stop or both. Notice that the name of each tuldík contains the very accent mark it describes.

Pahilís /

The pahilís is the most common tuldík. It simply shows which syllable or syllables should be accented or stressed in a word. (Hilís simply means slanted.) To demonstrate what is meant by stress, here are some examples in English:

  • An óbject is a thing that you can touch or a concept that you can discuss. If you disagree with something then you may objéct to it.

  • A súbject is a topic or a citizen of a monarchy. A tyrant may subjéct his citizens to cruel oppression.

  • A cómpound is something made up of several parts or an enclosed space. If you compound a problem you make it worse.

  • An áddress usually identifies a location such as where you live but if you give a speech you must addréss the audience.

As you can see, the placement of the stress can make a big difference in the meaning of a word. This is especially true in Filipino. For example:

báon (supplies, allowance) > baón (buried)
báta (bathrobe) > batá (suffer)
bíhis (style of dressing) > bihís (all dressed up)
bútas (hole) > butás (punctured)
gáling (come from) > galíng (skill, luck)
hápon (afternoon) > Hapón (Japanese)
samantála (meanwhile) > samantalá (take advantage)

Special note:

So many Filipino words are stressed on the second to last syllable that it is common to omit the pahilís mark when it falls in that position. (These words are classed as malumay or banayad.) So, when you see a word in a Filipino dictionary without a tuldík, just pronounce it as if there were a pahilís mark above the second last syllable. Example:

babae = babáe

lalaki = laláki

mabuhay = mabúhay

mabuti = mabúti

umaga = umága

hapon = hápon

Paiwà \ 

The paiwà mark is found only at the ends of words. It does not mark a stress on that syllable. Instead, it signifies that the vowel sound should be clipped short in the throat. (Iwà means slash as with a knife.) The technical term for this is a glottal stop or glottal catch. Speakers of English can compare this to the common exclamation that signifies shock or dread, “uh-oh!” where the first part, “uh-” is clipped and separated from the "oh". If there are no other accent marks in the word, stress the second last syllable. Here are more homonyms that involve the paiwà tuldik: 

bata (bathrobe) > batà (child)
baga (ember) > bagà (lung)
suka (vomit) > sukà (vinegar)

Pakupyâ ^

The pakupyâ mark is a combination of the pahilís and the paiwà marks. It signifies a stress on the marked syllable and a glottal stop on the vowel. (A kupyâ is a Filipino hat or long ago, a helmet.) It is also found only on the final syllable of a word. Example:

basa (to read) > basâ (wet)
Hindi (an Indian language) > hindî (no, not)

Stress classifications of Filipino words

Filipino grammarians classify words according to how they are pronounced. Each pattern of stresses and glottal stops has a name. As stated earlier, these terms are not crucial for a student to learn Filipino pronunciation but they are useful as a kind of shorthand to describe the different types of words. These terms become more important when you study the mechanics of Filipino grammar. (For a few more important pronunciation tips you may want to skip down to Irregularities.)

Malumay or Banayad

Malumay words have no accent marks but there is a stress on the second last syllable. This class of word is so common that most dictionaries do not mark them with a pahilís tuldík. Examples:

babae lalaki Filipino  kahapon lalamunan


Malumì words are pronounced the same way as malumay, with the stress on the second last syllable, but they also have a glottal stop on the final vowel. This is marked with the paiwà tuldík. Examples:

ba ha tangha mala bali


Mabilís or quick words have a single stress on the final syllable which is signified by a pahilís tuldík. Examples:

isá bibíg tanóng talagá magandá 


A maragsâ word is quick like a mabilís word with the stress on the final syllable but it also has a final glottal stop like a malumì word. Examples:

dagâ bigô salitâ salapî panibughô


A mariín or “stressed” word can contain the same stress pattern as any of the four types mentioned above but with an extra stressed syllable. Therefore there are four types of mariín words. Examples:

Mariíng Malumay > álinlangan bangan
Mariíng Malumì > máaa nakasísi
Mariíng Mabilís > páaralán ináanák
Mariíng Maragsâ > dálitâ nagbíbirô


Malaw-aw is a very rare type of pronunciation that was more common in the days before the Spanish language influenced Filipino speech. It is marked with a hyphen or gitlíng instead of a tuldík. The gitling represents a glottal stop before the vowel of the final syllable. Examples:

tung-ol (a kind of banner) alíw-iw (babbling of water)
ig-ig (to shake up) bag-ang (molar)(variant)

An easy way to remember all the types of stress patterns is to remember that the name for each type is itself an example of the stress pattern that it describes – except for mariín.


The current name of the national language of the Philippines is Filipino. It was formerly known as Pilipino and before that it was called the National Language. All of these incarnations were based mainly on the Tagalog language. There was a general rule in the old Pilipino language which stated that a word was written the way it was pronounced and it was pronounced the way it was written. Even so, there were some exceptions.

The Word Ng

The first obstacle for a student of Filipino is often the word "ng". It is roughly the equivalent of the English word "of". It is pronounced nang but it is always abbreviated because it is used so often in Filipino speech and writing. There is another word which is spelled "nang" and pronounced the same way. It has several meanings such as a conditional "when" and "in order to" etc. Ng is also a letter in the Filipino alphabet but when it is recited as part of the alphabet, it is pronounced nga.

The Word Mga

"Mga" is another very common Filipino abbreviation which is pronounced mangá. It makes nouns plural just like the letter s does in English and it takes on the meaning of "approximate" when dealing with numbers.

Words with DIY

In the Pilipino language the letters d, i and y were used in combination to approximate the sound of the English letter j before it was added to the new Filipino alphabet. So words like "janitor", "generator", "jeep", and "junior" were spelled diyanitor, diyenereytor, diyip and diyunyor. This j sound became so familiar that some people began to pronounce it even in Tagalog and Spanish words that happened to contain the letters diy or dia. Words such as "diyan", "diyabetes", "diyamante", "diyaryo", "diyes", "diyeta", and "diyos" are sometimes pronounced jan, jabetes, jamante, jaryo, jes, jeta, and jos.

Words with SIY

The letters siy are used to approximate the sh sound in foreign words and just as in the case of the letters diy, this sound is often used indiscriminately, even in words that originally didn't have the sh sound. Words such as "siya", "kasiya", "pasiya", "siyete", "siyam" and "siyopaw" are often pronounced sha, kasha, pashya, shete, sham, shopaw.

Kauntî & Saulì

These words are both formed by the connection of a prefix to a root word: ka+untî and sa+ulì. Kauntî means "a small amount" and saulì means "returning something". In common slang the a and u are often mixed together so that these words are actually pronounced konti and soli respectively. They are even spelled that way in comic books. 

© Paul Morrow
23 August 2002

Last updated: 10 May 2003