Like for any language, to truly speak Tagalog fluently and understand the people of the Philippines, you need to learn the everyday Filipino expressions. Tagalog is constantly changing — there are Filipino idioms that date back to our grandparents’ era, expressions influenced by the Spanish and American colonization, as well as pop culture-referenced street slang. To get you started on your Tagalog learning experience, here are 10 Filipino expressions that will not only help you blend in with the locals in this Southeast Asian nation, they’ll also give you some serious street cred.
1. Anak ng ___!
Meaning: Son of a ___!
Usage: A Filipino expression to convey annoyance. Just fill in the blank with any Tagalog noun, but the most common ones used by Filipinos are kamote (sweet potato), pating (shark), tokwa (tofu), teteng (no direct translation) and tinapa (smoked fish). It’s similar to the way Americans use the expression, “Son of a gun!”
Example: Anak ng tokwa! Natalo na naman ako. (Son of a tofu! I lost again.)
Meaning: “Right?” or “Isn’t it?”
Usage: One of the easiest Tagalog expressions to learn, diba may be placed at the start or end of your question, and you may sprinkle your English sentences with diba, making it sound like you know Taglish (Tagalog-English).
In Tagalog: Taga dito ka, diba? (You’re from here, right?”)
In Taglish: The food tastes great, diba? Diba, you’re from Manila?
Meaning: A contraction of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Usage: As an interjection, especially when you’re angry, frustrated, or in disbelief. You may also use the shorter versions, “Sus!” and “Maryosep!”
Example: Niloko na naman siya ng asawa niya? Susmaryosep! (Her husband cheated on her again? Susmaryosep!)
4. Hay nako!
Meaning: Hay niko is “sigh,” but hay naku has no direct translation. Some linguists say it comes from the phrase “Nanay ko po!” which means “Oh my mother!”
Usage: Hay nako is best used to express frustration or exasperation in the likes of “Oh my,” “Oh my gosh,” “Oh dear,” or “Uh oh!”. It’s also the title of a catchy Filipino song we encourage you to listen to if you want to learn how to pronounce this Tagalog expression properly.
Example: Your friend says, “My cellphone was stolen this morning.” Your answer: “Hay naku!”
5. Ano ba?
Meaning: Ano means “what,” while ba is an untranslatable word that Filipinos like to pepper their conversations with. “Ano ba?” is similar to the American expression, “What the?!”
Usage: When said calmly as a question, “Ano ba?” just means “What?” but when you say it as an interjection, it means you are annoyed, insulted, or frustrated at the person you’re talking to. For maximum effect, pronounce it this way: a-noo-bah! Other versions are: “Ano ba yan!” which literally translates to “What is that,” but has the same effect as hay naku; and “Ano ka ba?” which means, “What are you?”
Example: Your friend calls you stupid. You reply with: “Ano ba!”
Meaning: As a noun, it means, “waste,” but it can also be used as the verb “to waste.”
Usage: As a Filipino expression, it translates to, “What a waste!” because you’re frustrated over something that was lost or almost achieved.
Example: Nabuhos ko yung tasa ng kape. Sayang! (I spilled my cup of coffee. What a waste!)
Meaning: A shortcut of the Tagalog word ganoon (pronounced ga-no-on), ganon means, “like that.”
Usage: Saying “Ganon?” with an intonation of disbelief can mean, “Oh really?” or “Is that so?” A less sarcastic version is “Talaga?” To advance to a higher level of slang, try “May ganon?”
1. Your ex-boyfriend says, “Huwag na tayong mag-usap.” (Let’s not talk anymore.) Your reaction: “Ganon?”
2. Someone gives you a compliment. You reply with, “Talaga?”
Meaning: Short for “Anong nangyari?” which means, “What happened?”
Usage: A somewhat recent Filipino slang, anyare is a rhetorical and cooler way of asking, “What happened?”
Example: You finally arrive at the bar, only to find your friends already dead drunk. “Anyare?!”
Meaning: Short for “Anong sinabi?” which means, “What did he/she say?”
Usage: “Ansabe?” is a rhetorical way of asking what the person just said.
Example: Your normally cynical friend suddenly waxes poetic about a girl he’s in love with. You react with, “Ansabe?”
10. Bahala na!
Meaning: Bahala means “care” or “responsibility,” while na means “already.”
Usage: When someone uses the Filippino expression “Bahala na!” it means he/she is entrusting the uncertainty of the situation to a higher being, to nature, or fate. If you’d like to advance your level of street Tagalog slang, include Batman (yes, the superhero) in the sentence, i.e. “Bahala na si Batman!” Translation: “Let Batman decide (or take charge)!” We cannot pinpoint exactly when in history Batman came into the picture, but this expression has been around for years.
1. You’re eating Filipino street food for the first time and you’re not sure if your sensitive stomach can handle it. You say, “Bahala na!”
2. 2. Your deadline is in an hour, but you haven’t even started with the project yet. Your officemate asks you if you can handle it. You respond with, “Bahala na si Batman!”
A version of this article about filipino expressions was previously published on April 2, 2015, and was updated on February 18, 2021, with more information.