Cebuano grammar

Cebuano grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in the Cebuano language, spoken in the southern Philippines.


Personal Pronouns

Pronouns are inflected for person, number and case. No gender distinctions are made for the third person singular: he and she are both translated in Cebuano as siya.

The three cases are absolutive, ergative and oblique.

  Absolutive Ergative
  Full Short Full Short Full Full Short
1st person singular ako ko* nako ko ako, akoa kanako nako
2nd person singular ikaw ka nimo mo imo, imoha kanimo nimo
3rd person singular siya niya iya,iyaha kaniya niya
1st person plural inclusive kita ta nato to ato, atoa kanato nato
1st person plural exclusive kami mi namo mo amo, amoa kanamo namo
2nd person plural kamo mo ninyo inyo, inyoha kaninyo ninyo
3rd person plural sila nila ila, ilaha kanila nila

* - Ta only when the object is the second person singular, i.e., ka, mo, etc. For example, Nakita ta ka, NOT *Nakita ko ka.

Usage of full and short forms

The short forms are used most often in conversation. However, the full forms must be used when they occur on their own as a predicate.

Examples (Those marked with an asterisk, "*", are ungrammatical):

Ako si Juan. I am John.
*Ko si Juan.

Kamo'y moadto ngadto sa Banawa. You (plu.) are going to Banawa. *Mo'y moadto ngadto sa Banawa.


Mao ku si Juan.
Mao mo'y moadto ngadto sa Banawa.

First Person Plural: Clusivity

In Cebuano, like most other Austronesian languages, the first person plural forms encode clusivity. This distinction, not found in most European languages, signifies whether or not the addressee is included.


Moadto mi sa eskuwelahan.
We (someone else and I but not you) will go to school.
Moadto ta sa eskuwelahan.
We (you and I and perhaps someone else) will go to school.


Cebuano demonstratives are as follows:

Case Absolutive Ergative Oblique
Distance Full* Short* Full* Short* 'NG-'** 'D-'**

(Very near speaker)



ri niiri




ngari diri

(Near speaker)



ni niini




nganhi dinhi

(Near Addressee)

kana na niana ana nganha diha




kadto to niadto adto ngadto didto

* When the demonstrative is used as a predicate, the full form must be used.
** Both forms, those beginning with 'ng-' and those with 'd-', are interchangeable and correspond to the deictives below.
† Although not represented in the orthography, forms in this row end in a glottal stop:
kana /kanaˀ/, na /naˀ/, niana /niˀanaˀ/, nganha /ŋanhaˀ/, diha /dihaˀ/, dinha /dinhaˀ/.


Unsa kini/ni?
What's this?
Kinsa kana/na?
Who is that?
Gikan ning sulata sa Presidente sa Pilipinas.
This letter is from the President of the Philippines
Mangaon sila didto.
They will eat there.
Mikaon kadtong mga tawo ug mga bata didto sa piyasta/pista.
The people and children have already ate some of that in the festival.



Deictics, words such as here and there, reference locations between the speaker and addressee. In addition to the same four-way distinction of proximity for demonstratives (near speaker, near speaker and addressee, near addressee and remote), deictics can express three tenses:

  • Present: "X is here/there now"
  • Past: "X was here/there"
  • Future: "X will be here/there"

The present and future tense forms can precede or follow the words or phrases they modify by linking with nga. The past tense forms, however, only have a past meaning if they precede their words or phrases. If they follow, they convey no tense.

The 'ng-' forms are always tenseless. They follow the words or phrases they modify and can substitute equivalent past forms. In addition, they show movement or motion to the relative location which past forms cannot.

  Present Tense Past Tense Future Tense Tenseless (D-) Tenseless (NG-)
Proximal dia
diri ari diri ngari
Mesioproximal nia
dinhi anhi dinhi nganhi
Mesiodistal naa
anha diha
Distal toa
didto adto didto ngadto

† Forms in this row end in a glottal stop:
naa /naˀaˀ/, anaa /ˀanaˀaˀ/, diha /dihaˀ/, dinha /dinhaˀ/, anha /ˀanhaˀ/, diha /dihaˀ/, dinha /dinhaˀ/, nganha /ŋanhaˀ/.


Dia diri ang bata.
The child is over here.
Toa ang lolo sa Amerika.
Grandfather is in America.
Dinhi ang Doktor gahapon.
The doctor was here yesterday.
Adto siya sa Maynila.
She will be in Manila.
Midagan ang bata ngadto sa balay niya.
The child ran there (thither) to his/her house.


Cebuano nouns fall into of two classes: personal and general. Personal nouns refer to persons or personified objects and animals and names. All other nouns fall into the general category. Nouns do not inflect for case or number: Case is shown using case markers; the plural number is show with the particle mga.


Cebuano nouns assume three cases based on their role in a sentence:

  • Absolutive - This is the case of the predicative nominal and the subject of such phrases. It is the case used for the topic of transitive verbs.
  • Ergative - This is the case of the actor or agent in non-actor focus verb forms and the case of possession and roles of the genitive case.
  • Oblique - A peripheral case, this is the case of the direct object of actor-focus verbs. It is the used when the case relationship is non-core, i.e., neither ergative nor absolutive in nature.
Class Absolutive Ergative Oblique
General ang sa sa (definite)
og (indefinite)
Personal si ni kang

The use of sa VS. og in the oblique case is a matter of definiteness when the noun is the object of an actor-focus verb. Compare the following examples.

  1. [Definite] Nipalit/Mipalit si Juan sa sakyanan. John bought the car.
  2. [Indefinite] Mipalit si Juan ug sakyanan. John bought a car

In example sentence 1, the car that John bought is particular. It may have been a car he was thinking about buying or one that the speaker was selling John. In 2, the speaker may or may not know the specifics about the car in question.


Plurality is shown by preceding the noun with the particle mga /maŋa/.


As a rule, Cebuano does not categorize nouns into gender. Natural gender in Spanish loans.


Plural Forms

Adjectives do not inflect for the plural. Common adjectives of measurement, however, have a plural form characterized by the infixation of /g/.[1]

Gloss Singular Plural
big dako dagko
near duol dug-ol
small gamay gagmay
far layo lagyo
short mubo mugbo
tall taas tag-as


In comparing two similar items, the comparative form indicates that one has a higher degree (or lower degree) of the quality expressed by the root, e.g., bigger, smaller, greater, etc.

The comparative degree is expressed in the following ways:

  • Precede the adjective with labi pa "more (still)"
  • Precede the adjective with the particle mas (from Spanish más)
dako big
Method Form Gloss
labi pa labi pang dako bigger
mas mas dako bigger



Comparative Superlative

The comparative superlative indicates the maximum degree of the quality expressed in comparison to other items. In Cebuano this degree can be expressed by a prefix, pinaka- or by the use of the particle labi (most).

dako big
Method Form Gloss
pinaka- pinakadako biggest
labi labing dako biggest

Absolute Superlative

The absolute superlative is the form used in exclamations, for example, "How pretty you are!", and denote the extreme quality of the root.

It is formed by prefixing Pagka- or Ka- (short form) to the root. The subject follows in the oblique.


Pagkanindot kanimo! (Full)
Kanindot nimo! (Short)
How pretty you are! You are extremely pretty!


To express intensity, adjectives are followed by 'kaayo' (very).


Ang mga dwendey mubo kaayo.
Dwarves are very short.





The linker nga (pronounced /ŋa/) shows the relationship between modifiers to the head of the phrase. Examples of such relationships are adjective-noun, clause-noun, adverb-verb, adverb-adjective and noun-noun. Without the intervening linker, juxtaposition of modifier and head can constitute, not a phrase, but a sentence unto itself. Compare the phrase "ang batang lalaki" the/a young man/boy and the sentence "ang bata lalaki" the child is male or the child is a boy.

After words that end in a monophthong, diphthong or -n, nga is reduced to -ng /-ŋ/.

Unlike Tagalog, nga is not used with numbers; ka below is used instead.

Example Gloss
balay nga bato

balay'ng bato

stone house
balay nga nipa

balay'ng nipa

nipa hut
balay nga kahoy

balay'ng kahoy

wooden house
dako nga balay

dakong balay

big house
gamay nga balay

gamay'ng balay

small house



The linker ka is used to link a number and the phrase it modifies. Buok whole is sometimes used with ka.

Example 1 Example 2 Gloss
usa ka bata usa ka buok bata one child
walo ka semana walo ka buok semana eight weeks
duha ka tasa duha ka buok tasa two cups

Enclitic particles

  1. ba: used for yes-and-no questions and optionally for other types of questions.
  2. gayud/gyud:[2] indeed; used in affirmations or emphasis.
  3. kay: because
  4. lang/ra/da: limiting particle; just, only.
  5. man: even, even if, even though, although
  6. na: now, already (past positive tense), anymore (past negative tense)
  7. pa: still, else
  8. ug: and
  9. usab,[3] upod:[3] also

Na and pa are not used in the same sentence.


  • Unsa? What?
  • Asa? Where? (for a place or person)
  • Diin?, Dis-a? Where?
  • Hain?, Saa/Asa? Where? (for an object)
  • Kinsa? Who?
  • Ngano? Why?
  • Kang'kinsa? To whom?
  • Giunsa? How? (past)
  • Unsaon? How? (future)
  • Kanus-a? When?
  • Pila ka buok?, Pila? How many?
  • Tagpila? How much?
  • Diay ba? Really?

The word asa and hain:

Asa and hain—both mean where—have distinct uses in formal Cebuano usage.

Asa is used when asking about a place.

  • Asa ka padulong? (Where are you going?)
  • Asa ta molarga? (Where are we traveling to?)

Hain is used when asking about a food or thing.

  • Hain na ang gunting? (Where is the pair of scissors?)
  • Hain na ang pagkaon sa piyasta/pista? (Where is the food for the festival)

In spoken Cebuano, however, asa is commonly used to replace hain. You rarely hear hain being used, except by older generations of Cebuano-speakers.


The functionalist school of grammar maintains that Cebuano verbs have no tense but rather aspect, specifically the aspect of inception; that is whether the action has been initiated or not. The aspect of completion is not readily shown by verbs in Cebuano. There are only two aspects: the nasugdan (incepted) aspect and the pagasugdan (expected) aspect.

Past actions are basically in the nasugdan aspect. Present actions are in the nasugdan aspect too unless they are habitual actions.

Habitual actions and future actions are in the to be pagasugdan aspect.

Examples of nasugdan aspect:

Past actions
1. The carpenters have begun building the house.
The act had been started in the past, therefore the Cebuano translation is:
"Ang mga mamamanday/panday nagsugod na ug tukod sa balay."
2. It is finished.
The act had been started in the past therefore the Cebuano translation is:
"Nahuman na gyud."[2]

Present actions
1. "I am going to the kitchen".
The act has been started before the statement is spoken, therefore the Cebuano translation is:
"Nagpadulong ko sa kusina."
2. "I am washing the dishes".
The act has been started before the statement is spoken, therefore the Cebuano translation is:
"Naghugas/Nanghugas ko sa plato."

Examples of pagasugdan aspect:

Future actions
1. "The President of the Philippines has won."
The act has not happened yet, therefore it has not yet started:
"Nakadaug ang Presidente sa Pilipinas".
2. "Nagsugod na ang eskwela".
The act has not happened yet, therefore it has not yet started:
"The school have started".

Habitual actions
1. "The people from the province go to the city to work."
Although the act had already happened, she will still have to start the same act again and again (every morning) so the act itself is still to be started or pagasugdan pa and therefore:
"Ang mga tawo sa probinsiya moadto sa syudad para motrabaho."
2. "How much is the cigarette?"
Although the act had already happened,she will still have to start the same act again and again (always) so the act itself is still to be started or pagasugdan pa and therefore:
"Tagpila ang sigarilyo?"

  • Cebuano verbs act as predicates, or words that tell about the subject or the topic. This topic can be the doer of the action, the recipient of the action, the purpose for the action, or the means by which the action was made possible. The form of the verb is dependent on the function of the topic in relation to said verb. Some Cebuano grammar teachers call it the focus of the verb but some others call it voice.



1) equational ( topic = predicate ) ~ in this sentence type you can interchange the topic and the predicate without changing the thought of the sentence.

  a) "Mao kini ang Kabisay-an".              = This is the Visayas.
  b) "Magbinisaya mi diri"                   = We speak Cebuano here.
  c) "Kamao/Kahibalo ka magbinisaya?"               = Do you know how to speak Cebuano?.

2) non-equational ( topic < predicate ) ~ in this sentence type the topic and the predicate are not interchangeable.

  a) "Filipino ang mga Bisaya."              = Visayans are Filipinos.
  b) "Unsa ang imong kinahanglan?"          = What do you need?
  c) "Naunsa na ang politika?               = What is wrong with politics.

3) existential sentence of presence ~ sentences of this type tells the existence of a thing or idea.

  a) "Aduna'y Diyos sa langit."               = There is God in heaven.
  b) "Didto'y halas sa kahoy."                = There was a snake in the tree.

4) existential sentence of possession ~ sentences of this type tell about someone or something possessing something.

  a) " Aduna'y Diyos ang mga anghel sa langit."  = (The angels in heaven have a God.)
  b) "Naa[4] koy ilimnon sa balay."           
                                               = (I have something to drink at home.)

5) locative sentence ~ this type of sentence tells the location of a thing.

  a) "Ania ang kwarta."                       = Here is the money.
  b) "Tua siya sa bukid."                     = He/she is in the mountain.

6) meteorologic sentence ~ this type of sentence tells about weather condition, noise level, etc., of a place.

  a) "Tugnaw dinhi sa Baguio City."            = It is cold here in Baguio.
  b) "Init kaayo ang adlaw diri sa Sugbo."     = The weather is very hot in here in Cebu. 

7) exclamatory remark ~ praises and unexpected discoveries belong here.

  a) "Daghana nimo'g sakyanan!"             = You have plenty of cars
  b) "Gwapaha nimo!"                        = You are pretty
  c) "Kasaba ba ninyo!"                     = You are so noisy

8) imperatives ~ commands and requests

  a) "Isugba kanang isda."                  = Grill that fish.
  b) "Ngari/Ali/Hali diri."                 = Come here.
  c) "Ayaw mo panabako diri"               = Do not smoke here.

9) interrogatives ~ questions that are not answerable by yes or no.

  a) "Kinsa ka?"                             = Who are you?
  b) "Unsa'y imong ngalan?"                   = What is your name?           

10) confirmation ~ questions that are basically answered by yes or no. constructed like the first 6 sentence type with the insertion of the particle "ba" as a second term.

  a) "Kini ba ang Kabisay-an?"               = Is this the Visayas?
  b) "Kamao ba ka molangoy?"                = Do you know how to swim?
  c) "Unsa ba ang sinultihan ninyo?"         = What language do you speak?
  d) "Isugba ba kining isda?"                = Shall this fish be grilled?


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