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Language matters

Similar in sound, different in sense

/ 10:25 PM August 05, 2013

(Editor’s Note: The Inquirer is running this series on the correct use of the Filipino language in observance of Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa.)

(Third of a series)

Let us look at two little but rather confusing words: ng (short) and nang (long spelling).


The two words are an issue mainly for writers because they are aurally indistinguishable. But they perform entirely different functions which, if we have to make comparisons again with our borrowed tongue, are as similar in sound as they are different in sense, as the English “off” and “of.”

That is why when they are written and used correctly, it speaks a lot about the writer’s quality of knowledge, respect for language and respect for the reader. Admirable virtues if we demand, for example, that a master carpenter not mistake his pait for his katam.

(And, readers, don’t we want some respect as well, as when writers spare us from such garbage as kung saan and kaganapan?)

Now, ng and nang will not make us lose our way between Caloocan and Baclaran. But, as in the master carpenter analogy, their correct usage enables us to trust our cabinet-maker to know his chisel from his plane, or to be assured that our posts are tama sa hulog and our house will not lean or eventually give in to gravity.

Let us just give a little bow to history and say that the first friars who transcribed Tagalog in the early days of our colonization spelled it always the long way, nang for everything.

But our balarila teachers from Lope K. Santos down to the present made an important distinction.

The simplest way to know when to use one or the other is that nang (long) always has several meanings like time, manner, measure or intensity (it is both a preposition and an adverb), while ng (short) is mainly a conjunction with the English equivalents of “of,” “by” and “from.”

The new “Ortograpiyang Pambansa,” the basic orthographic reform manual on Filipino spelling and usage being advocated by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), devotes a special section to nang and ng.


As the language authority, here are its examples of usage, which are definite examples of clarity.

First, according to the “Ortograpiya,” use nang as a synonym for noong. For example: “Umaga nang barilin si Rizal. Nang umagang iyon ay lumubha ang sakit ni Pedro.”

Second, use nang to mean upang and para (“in order that” and “so that”), as in: “Sa isip ng mga Espanyol, kailangang bitayin si Rizal nang matakot ang mga Filipino. Dinala si Pedro sa ospital nang magamot.”

Third, use nang as a combination of na and ng. Example: “Pero sa isip ng mga Filipino, sobra nang lupit ang mga Espanyol. Sobra nang hirap ang dinanas ni Pedro.”

Fourth, nang is used to express manner or degree (as an adverb of manner or intensity). Example: “Binaril nang nakatalikod si Rizal. Namayat nang todo si Pedro dahil sa sakit.”

Fifth, nang is used as a connective or ligature between words being repeated to express frequency as well as degree: “Barilin man nang barilin si Rizal ay hindi siya mamamatay sa puso ng mga kababayan. Ginamot nang ginamot si Pedro para gumaling.”

The short of it

All instances of usage other than those mentioned above will need the short ng.  Example: “Ipinabaril ng mga Espanyol si Rizal. Pinainom ng gamot si Pedro.”

However, the “Ortograpiya” asks us to mark the difference between these two sentences: (1) “Martiryo ang katulad ng sinapit ni Rizal.” (2) “Gusto mo ba ang katulad nang magmartir si Rizal?”

The ng in the phrase “katulad ng sinapit” connects or introduces the noun “sinapit” (so it is a preposition), while the nang in the phrase “nang magmartir” is an adverb of time modifying the verb “magmartir.”

(For the complete rules on spelling and usage, “Ortograpiyang Pambansa” is accessible on the KWF website,, and will be available in print soon and distributed to language teachers and the general public.)

While ng and nang may be indistinguishable when we hear them on radio or television, it is still comforting for readers and listeners to know that our writers and announcers can tell the difference. For if they don’t, that just makes the two of us, purveyors and users of knowledge, forever mired in error and ignorance.

But in the age of the Internet, the biggest library and data center available, especially to writers in media, can we still be forever mired in error and ignorance?

“Wala nang rason para maging bobo,” I once heard Lourd de Veyra tell a graduating class. Nobody seems to have heard him.

Now, how about something more audible? “Yaong halimbawa ng kamalian na naririnig,” as we would say in Filipino.

Say ‘tubig’

Well, it is that time of the year again when we have to wade through floods. And when you report it over the TV or radio, please remember that in Filipino, “flood” means tubig and nothing else, whether it comes up to one’s neck or to one’s ankles only.

It is never “tubig-baha” in Filipino, my dear friends. That, again, is a lazy and mindless translation of the English term “floodwaters.”

As my friend, the filmmaker and former TV writer-editor Jim Libiran, warned, “Sino mang magsabi ng ‘tubig-baha’ sa newscast ay lulunurin ko sa semento!”

On the plushier side of the metropolis, in the cozy offices of brand managers, while an ad agency was presenting creatives and bidding for an account, I once heard this: “If you consider our proposed campaign and use our creative concept, makasisiguro kayong bubulusok ang sales ninyo.”

Eh, what? Bubulusok ang sales? I knew what the account guy meant—exactly the opposite of what he was saying. “Papailanglang” or “papaimbulog” was what he wanted to retrieve from his small cache of Filipino vocabulary.

“Bumulusok” means to plummet, to dive, to decrease suddenly when applied to sales.

And the poor guy wanted to sell the agency’s creatives so that the prospective client could arrest a slack in sales.

As I recall, no one noticed the Filipino solecism (a violation of grammar, a flagrant and illiterate misuse of words). The prospective client was as ignorant as the presenter.

But if things were not as they were—if language did not really matter—we would not have noticed what was wrong with our adverbs, we might have drowned in tubig-baha, or bragged to our bosses that bumubulusok na ang ating sales!

Marne Kilates is an award-winning poet and translator from Filipino into English.

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