Ilokano grammar

Ilokano grammar

Ilokano grammar, akin to many of the Philippine languages, is very different in many respects from European languages such as English.

Ilokano has word classes such as nouns, verbs and adjectives found in a canonical grammar. Yet, Ilokano has particles. Particles have no inherent meaning on their own, but are useful in altering the sentence or phrase in which they occur. One particle in particular, the ligature, is common to Philippine languages. Its use is to "link" constituents of a sentence as a unit.

In English morphology, there are prefixes and suffixes. In addition to those, Ilokano has what are called infixes. Sometimes, prefixes and suffixes come in pairs, called "circumfixes".

Ilokano verbal morphology is rather complex and uses a system of Philippine-type focus.

=Word Classes=


Ilokano has two subsets of determiners. Articles are similar to "the" in English. Demonstratives are those words that point out something, "this" and "that".

Ilokano determiners show only two cases, core and oblique, unlike Ilokano pronouns which show three: absolutive, ergative and oblique. In fact, core can function as absolutive or ergative.


Ilokano has two sets of articles, "common" and "personal". Personal articles are used with persons, names and titles. Common articles are used with all other nouns.

Non-Visible Demonstratives

The Non-Visible series refers to objects and events that are not visible to either the speaker or the listener. Quite possibly, what is referred to occurred in the past.

* Recent Past: Refers to things or events that are not visible to the speaker or the listener at the moment of the speech event.
* Remote Past: Refers to persons who have passed away, things that no longer exist or events that occurred long ago.

* The 3rd person is assumed when it is a patient. In other words, it appears as a "zero" morpheme. If there is a need for emphasis, then isuna, an idependent absolutive personal pronoun, may be used, for example, Nakitak isuna, "I saw him."
* Ida never combines with any of the pronouns. As a result, other enclitics may occur between the agent and ida, for example, Nailutuanna"n" ida, "He cooked for them already".
* -ko and -mo forms only occur when more enclitics, such as the future particle, are added, Ipanko"nto" ida, "I will send them".
* -na appears to signal a singular agent regardless of person, where as, -da signals a plural agent.
* Some combinations do not exist, for example, 1st person singular agent and a 1st person plural patient. Typically, these non-existent forms are those where the agent is among the patients.



Nouns are classed into the Common or Personal. The Personal nouns are introduced by the personal article ni. They may be introduced by ti, the common article, if the speaker is making a generalization or wants to refer to a conceptual. All other nouns, the common nouns, are introduced by ti.


Nouns can be made plural by using the appropriate form of the article.

In addition, plurality can be indicated in the noun form. Plurals formed in this way adds the nuance of distribution. Plurality is indicated using open or closed reduplication of the first syllable of the root. Or, a consonantal phoneme is geminitated as occurs with nouns denoting persons. Other nouns have a plural form that does not fall into the previous categories.

"Open Syllable Reduplication" kayong "brother-in-law" kakayong "brothers-in-law" "Closed Syllable Reduplication" ima "hand" im-ima "hands" "Gemination" ubing "child" ubbing "children" "Other" lalaki "male" lallaki "males"


Root Adjectives

Root adjectives are not derived from any other roots and are characterized as not having any of the common derivational affixes, such as a-, na-, etc. Many root adjectives denote physical characteristics. A great number of them, especially, denote physical abnormalities.

Example bassit "small" dakkel "big" baro "new" daan "old" (applied to inanimate objects) baket "old" (applied to animate females) lakay "old" (applied to animate males) buttiog "having a pot-belly" (applied to men) tuleng "deaf" pangkis "cross-eyed/cock-eyed"

Derived Adjectives

*Na-The most common prefix for deriving adjectives is na-. For example, from alsem ("bitterness, acidity"), naalsem ("sour, acid").

*Ma-Some roots have a derived adjective form that begin with ma-. For example, from sakit ("sickness, pain, disease"), nasakit ("painful") but masakit ("ill, sick").

*A-A fixed number of roots begin with a-, a prefix that is fossilized and no longer productive, e.g. atiddog, ("long"). As a result, the prefix no longer has a meaning of its own.

Adjective degrees


*ComparativeThe comparative form of adjectives is used when comparing at least two nouns, where one has "more" of the characteristic denoted by the adjective.




Although other word classes in Ilokano are not as morphologically diverse in forms, verbs are about as morphologically complex as the classic Indo-European languages of Latin, Ancient Greek or Sanskrit. Ilokano verb forms are characterized by reduplication and heavy prefixation.



Locatives correspond to "here" and "there". They have a three-way distinction similar to the demonstratives: proximal, medial and distal. They can be used with nouns to specify location. In addition, they can replace a noun phrase in the oblique case that concerns location.







Ilokano employs a predicate-initial structure. Verbs and adjectives occur in the first position of the sentence, then the rest of the sentence follows.

Noun Phrases

Verb Phrases




Interrogative Words

Ilokano’s interrogative words are: "aniá", "apay", "ayanná", "intianná", "kaanó", "kasanó", "kumustá", "manó", and "sinnó".

Aniá means "what" or "which" depending on the context.

Aniá daytóy? "What is this?"

Aniá ti náganmó? "What’s your name?"

Aniá ití duá ti kayatmo? "Which of the two do you want?"

Apay means "why."

Apay haán? "Why not?"

Apay ngamín? "It’s because why?"

Apay isuna ití Australia? "Why is he/she in Australia?"

Apay isuda naladaw? "Why are they late?"

Ayanná means "where" but is used to pertain the location of an object and not used with verbs.

Ayanná ni Robert? "Where is Robert?"

Ayanná ti Espania? "Where is Spain?"

"Espania" is the Ilokano version of "España", the Spanish name of “Spain”.

Ayanná ti sarmíng? "Where is the mirror?"

Ayanná ti ragadi? "Where is the saw?"

Intianná means "where" but is used to pertain the location of where the action was done.

Taga-intianná siká? "Where are you from?"

Intianná ti residensia dagití iskuater? "Where is the residence of the squatters?"

"Iskuater" is the Ilokano phonetic spelling of “squatter.” Kaanó means "when."

Kasanó is used to ask "how" something is done or happened.

Kasanó ti agluto ti kaldereta? "How will you cook caldereta?"

"Kaldereta" is the Ilokano phonetic spelling of "caldereta", a Spanish cuisine adopted by Filipinos.

Kumustá is used to ask how something is (are). It was derived from "Cómo está/s?", the Spanish for “How are you?”, thus it is frequently as a greeting with the mentioned meaning.

Kumustá siká? "How are you?"

Kumustá ti situasionna? "How is his/her situation?"

Manó both means "how many" and "how much" depending on the context; the latter is used to pertain the price of something.

Manó ti populasión ti Pilipinas? "How many is the population of the Philippines?"

Manó daytá kalkiuleytor? "How much is the calculator?"

"Kalkiuleytor" is the Ilokano phonetic spelling of “calculator.”

Sinnó means "who", "whose" or "whom". It is both the absolutive, ergative, and oblique form.

Sinnó ni Alberto Fujimori? "Who is Alberto Fujimori?"

Sinnó daytá? "Whose is that?"


ee also

*Ilokano language
*Languages of the Philippines

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