Filipino Words and Expressions To Know When In the Philippines

15 Filipino Words & Expressions To Know if You’re Travelling to the Philippines

The more colloquial words you know, the better!

Planning to visit the Philippines in the foreseeable future? Then you have to know how to blend in! There are two important ways to do this. One is to try the local food, and two is to understand and try basic Filipino words and expressions. As Filipinos, we’re generally hospitable and welcoming to foreigners (as Anthony Bourdain once said about Filipinos to a Filipino “You’re just too damn nice!”).

But whenever we hear foreigners attempt to communicate to us using our own tongue, we take it as a show of affection which we’re not used to receiving from people abroad. In Filipino, we call this effort of getting along with others as pakikisama. Here are the Filipino or Tagalog words and expressions that will help you do just that.

Also read: Laws & Ordinances You Ought to Know While Exploring the Philippines

Basic Filipino words and expressions

1. Mabuhay!

This is the first official Filipino word you might hear when you set foot in the Philippines if you’re flying with Philippine Airlines (PAL). Mabuhay’s literal translation in English is “long live”, so it only makes sense that this is also the signature welcome greeting of the country’s flag carrier. Although it could also be used as a way of saying “welcome”, this isn’t really what mabuhay means. You won’t hear it being said to you when you enter restaurants, malls, or shops. You might hear it in tourist attractions if the people in the establishment are feeling extra friendly.

2. Kamusta ka?

In English, this translates to “How are you?” It’s pretty simple and easy to remember. If you’re visiting Filipino friends in the country, you can surprise them by throwing them this question right off the bat. And you’ll definitely know how to answer if they ask this to you too.

3. Magandang Umaga/Hapon/Gabi

Anothing basic greeting is Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening depending on the time of day. Maganda means “good” or “beautiful”. Umaga means “morning”, hapon means “afternoon” and gabi means “evening”. If you want to generalise it, you can just say Magandang Araw, which means “Good Day”.

4. Pinoy

filipino words expressions travelling philippines

Pinoy is the term Filipinos use to call themselves. It’s a casual and informal nickname for Filipino, sort of like how Australians are also called Aussies and New Zealanders are called Kiwis.

5. Ate/Kuya

In English translation, Ate (pronounced as ah-teh), means older sister, and Kuya means older brother. Filipinos use these terms not only on their biological Ate and Kuya, but also with anyone older than them to show respect and courtesy. If you see a kid paying for her food at the counter, you might hear her call the cashier Ate. When people ride a cab or jeepney and pay the driver, they call him Kuya. This is also one of the most useful terms tourists can use during their stay in the Philippines, since Ate and Kuya are the usual nouns used when striking a conversation with a complete stranger.

On the other hand, we call our elders Lolo and Lola, meaning grandfather and grandmother. It works the same as using ate and kuya in a sense that these elders don’t have to be biologically related to anyone for them to be called Lolo and Lola. They simply need to be elders. 

6. Opo and Po

Speaking of respecting our elders, saying opo and po is crucial in showing respect and politeness to the person you’re talking to. Opo in English just means “yes”, but in Filipino, it comes with added reverence to the one you’re talking to. This is usually how children say yes to their parents, how students answer their teachers, and even how employees speak to their bosses. Meanwhile, saying po doesn’t translate to “yes”, but is still an extension of politeness.

Take for example when Filipinos speak Taglish (Tagalog + English), sometimes you’ll hear them say “Yes po” or “Thank you po”. It always seems like a syllable more when it comes to Filipinos showing respect for one another, but hey, it’s also an easier way for tourists to express how thankful they are once they experience Filipino hospitality.

7. Salamat!

“Thank you!” As tourists, you’ll be saying Salamat a lot. This is probably the easiest Filipino word to remember because it’s short, and because any decent traveller would aim to say “Thank you” in the national language of the country they’re travelling in. Saying Maraming salamat, on the other hand, translates to “Thank you very much”.

8. Para po!

If you’re going to ride a jeepney, then you better practice saying this because this is what you have to shout when you want the driver to stop and drop you off. I guess this is how you say “Pull over, please!” in Filipino.

9. Kain tayo!

This translates to “Let’s eat!”. Filipinos say this when they’re inviting someone to eat with them, even if they don’t really mean for the person to actually sit with them and share their food. Sometimes we say this out of (yup, you guessed it) courtesy and politeness. It’s also our way of saying that it’s about time that you should eat.

Modern Filipino expressions

Now let’s delve into more informal Filipino / Tagalog expressions…

10. Waley

Waley actually comes from Filipino gay linggo, which everyone else has seemed to adapt to their informal Filipino. Waley, which comes from the Filipino word Wala (“nothing”), is used by a person to describe something pointless or useless. “This map is waley!”. People often use this term to keep the mood light and make fun of a situation.

11. Kakaloka!

Kakaloka is a compressed informal Filipino expression of “This is driving me crazy!”. Often used when someone is trying to be “funny” or “corny”, and if a situation seems impossible to deal with, the term isn’t to be taken seriously when said.  

12. Ansabe?!

Just like how Americans ask “What’d he say?!”, Ansabe literally means the same thing. It’s an informal shortcut for “Anong sinabi niya?” (What did he say?), and got even more popular when local TV talent shows and comedians started using the expression, too.

13. Lodi!

Lodi is the Filipino slang for “Idol”. Yeah, we just turned it backwards, but it’s pronounced as loh-dee. It means the same thing as its English origin which pertains to someone you admire or look up to. We just like saying it out loud more often, like when our favourite basketball player shoots a three-pointer that decides the whole game. It’s the perfect occasion to shout out, “Lodi!”

14. Bet na bet!

In English, when you say “Bet on it!”, it shows how confident you are with something. It’s the same when Filipinos use the expression “Bet na bet!” It means that they’re really happy and confident with whatever it is they’re pertaining to. So if you’re a tourist and you loved the Sizzling Sisig in the restaurant you ate in, you can say “Bet na bet!”

15. Chos/Charot!

Like Waley, Chos and Charot come from Filipino gay linggo which many (usually women) have adapted to their informal Filipino. Chos and charot simply mean “Joke!” or “I’m kidding”. When you’re talking to a Filipino and you just pulled a joke, make sure to follow it up with these expressions since the sense of humour of differing nationalities aren’t always the same, and it might take time for the joke to sink it. If you want to use the literal Filipino translation of “I’m only joking”, say “Biro lang” instead.

Also read: 7 Things to Know About Clark International Airport in the Philippines

Learning simple Filipino words and expressions isn’t that hard once you understand the meaning behind each one. Plus, it’s a fun way to get to know the culture and people. Keep these Filipino or Tagalog words and expressions in mind to make the best out of your visit to the Philippines.

About Author

Therese Sta. Maria
Therese Sta. Maria

Therese's close friends know that if they haven’t seen her around recently, then she’s probably having an adventure with her luggage and camera in hand. Though she loves staying at home and spending lazy afternoons with friends, there are times when she has to be "away from home to feel at home," — that’s when she’s bitten by the travel bug. See her travels on Instagram @reesstamaria.