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Filipino Idioms - 30 Examples of Commonly Used Tagalog Idiomatic Expressions

Precy enjoys helping others learn to speak and appreciate the Filipino language. She also speaks Ilocano.

Filipino/Tagalog idioms explained.

Filipino/Tagalog idioms explained.

Filipino/Tagalog Idioms

Learning idioms may not sound appealing to a foreign language learner as an idiom often conveys a meaning entirely different from the literal meaning. There is always a hidden message waiting to be unlocked and understood for every idiom. Filipino idioms aren't different. Known as sawikain in Filipino, the country's official language, Filipino idioms are still pretty much used these days. While most of these idioms convey an entirely different meaning from the literal interpretation, some of these somehow gives off a hint as the word reflects the idiom's true meaning.

Filipino/Tagalog idioms, often comprised of group of words with a meaning that completely has nothing to do with any of the words in the phrase. To a Filipino language learner, these idioms might sound discouraging to learn and most likely maybe last on the list, but they are a great way to step up on the learning process. The reward of learning Filipino idioms? Being able to understand some of these idioms once heard or spoken allowing you to blend in more and carry out conversations without feeling left out.

With that said, challenge yourself as you continuously learn the Filipino language by learning these idioms. Impress and surprise your friends what you've learned. This time, with Filipino/Tagalog idioms. What are the commonly used Filipino idioms? That, in this list of 30 commonly used Filipino idioms with their literal meaning, what they really mean and their English counterpart if there is. Some includes examples too.

Balat sibuyas

Balat means skin. The word is also used in Filipino when referring to fruit rinds or outer cover of vegetables and root crops. Sibuyas means onion. But putting these two together, this Filipino idiom means a sensitive person. 'Balat sibuyas' literally means 'onion skin.'


Kutong lupa

The Filipino word kuto refers to head louse while lupa means soil and is also used to refer to the ground. Putting these two words together giving us our idiom 'kutong lupa' literally means 'soil louse' or 'ground louse.' An idiom that is often used by someone irritated when referring to small kids.

Maamong tupa

The first word is a Filipino adjective that means domesticated. Tupa on the other hand means sheep. 'Maamong tupa' literally means domesticated sheep. A Filipino idiom that has nothing to do with the sheep but most likely mirrors how sweet looking these animals are. Maamong tupa is your Filipino idiom for someone playing goody goody.

The close English counterpart for this Filipino idiom is 'A wolf in sheep's skin.' That someone pretending to be sweet, nice and harmless.


Matabil ang dila

As they say, words can be as sharp as a sword. An idiom fit for anyone with, as they say, sharp tongue as this idiom literally means. Matabil means sharp while dila is for tongue. Another idiom synonymous to this is 'matalas ang dila.' An outspoken person who say what's in her mind without a care about people's feelings.


Nagpanting ang tenga

Have you ever heard something that made your blood boil? This is exactly your Filipino idiom for that. An idiom worth keeping in mind just in case you hear something that suddenly made you irritated, upset or mad sending your blood rushed up to your ears - the meaning of 'nagpanting ang tenga.' Some also spells tenga as tainga.

Kalapating mababa ang lipad

Literally means 'low flying doves' and is a popular euphemism of the word prostitute. A Filipino idiom commonly used for those ladies of night or women of the night.

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Balat kalabaw

A Tagalog idiom that literally means 'carabao skin.' Although it doesn't have anything to do with the hard working domesticated water buffalo, it probably has something to do with how seemingly thick a water buffalo's skin is. 'Balat' is your word for skin and 'kalabaw' means carabao. A Filipino idiom for someone who is insensitive or shameless.


Isang kahig isang tuka

What do chickens have to do with this idiom? Have you ever noticed the way chickens eat? They don't stock up food or grain they find as they scratch the soil but eats up everytime they find something. 'Isang kahig isang tuka,' is a Tagalog idiom used to describe the life of those who don't have sufficient money to live a standard life, being in a hand-to-mouth situation, the poor earning just enough for a day. This idiom means just having enough or barely enough to get by.

'Isang kahig isang tuka,' literally means 'one scratch on the ground one peck.'


Magsunog ng kilay

A Filipino idiom often used by parents to their kids when reminding them to study hard. Yes, an idiom that has something to do with doing good academically.

'Magsunog ng kilay' literally means to 'burn eyebrows.' Often used as well amongst students to congratulate or tease that one friend who passed the exam with flying colors, as clearly he/she stayed up late at night burning eyebrows. I mean, studying very hard.

Pinagbiyak na buko

'Pinagbiyak na buko' is your idiom fit for anyone who looks exactly the same or wearing the same outfit. Yes, like twins.

Pinagbiyak is your word meaning cut in halves while buko refers to the young, green coconut.


Takaw tingin

Have you ever filled your plate with food more than you can handle? Well, it all looks good. A Filipino idiom fit just for you - takaw tingin. With the first word being greedy or gluttonous in Filipino, the second word 'tingin' means look.

Tulog mantika

Have you ever seen a solid cooking oil? No matter how you shake it, it wouldn't budge. This Filipino idiom is the perfect counterpart of the English idiom 'sleeping like a log' or 'sleeping like a rock.'

Tulog means sleep and mantika is your Filipino word for cooking oil. Tulog mantika literally means sleeping like a cooking oil.


Matamis ang dila

An idiom fit for the sweet talkers. Yes, this Filipino idiom means a sweet talker. It literally means sweet tongue. Matamis is your Filipino word for sweet and dila means tongue.

Makapal ang mukha

Literally translates in English as 'thick face.' An idiom you'll likely hear used in arguments or quarrels. Fit for anyone at fault seemingly unashamed, or still has the guts to show up.

Gintong kutsara

'Gintong kutsara' literally translates to golden spoon. Another Filipino idiom that has something to do with someone being born wealthy. A Filipino idiom with an English counterpart 'born with a silver spoon.'


Dugong bughaw

One that you're most likely familiar with knowing that this Tagalog idiom translates in English as 'blue blooded.' Dugong bughaw doesn't mean literally having blue blood running through the veins. It means someone being of a royalty, or being a part of a family of high social rank.

Patay gutom

Literally means 'dead hungry' but of course, has nothing to do with either words. 'Patay gutom' is an idiom used in referring to someone poor or poverty stricken. Those who can barely get by with foods and daily needs.

Ipot sa ulo

Know someone who is being cheated on? This Filipino idiom could be a way to say so. 'Ipot sa ulo' also 'iniiputan sa ulo' literally means poop or shit in the head. Chopping it by words, ipot means poop and 'sa ulo' tells you exactly where - in the head.


Panakip butas

The Filipino idiom that suits any person being in a rebound relationship. Yes, the key word was just mentioned. 'Panakip butas' means rebound.


Nagmumurang kamatis

A Filipino idiom fit for my friend's mom who dresses up like a teenager. Of course, that was just a sentence example to convey the meaning of this idiom easily.

This Filipino idiom is aiming for an adult woman that isn't dressing up or acting properly to her age. An idiom I've heard many times when referring to a grown up woman not dressing approprite her age, but of how a teen or young lady would - parang nagmumurang kamatis which translates to just like how a young lady would. This idiom literally refers to the green unripe tomato. From the Filipino root word mura which means unripe and kamatis for tomato.

Palay at manok

This literally means rice and chicken, with the first word referring to rice and the second word to chicken. An idiom that is used when referring to a male and a female. This Filipino idiom isn't uncommon to hear from parents playing cupids pairing up their kids. Palay refers to female and chicken for male.


Butas ang bulsa

Got no money? Say it through this commonly used Filipino idiom that means broke. Literally means 'hole in the pocket' but has nothing to do with that. Butas is your Filipino word for hole and bulsa for pocket.


Haligi ng tahanan

This idiom has been used so much even these days when referring to dad. With a close relation of how a post makes a strong hold of the house or home, so are dads being the man of the house. Haligi is your word meaning post and tahanan referring to home, this idiom's literal meaning is 'post of the home.' A Filipino idiom referring to the man of the house that is keeping the family strong together, just like a post.


Ilaw ng tahanan

An idiom that literally means 'light of the home.' A Filipino idiom fit for a mom being the light of the home as they provide love, guidance and care for the family. Getting to know each words, ilaw is your word for light while tahanan means home.


Dilang anghel

Have you ever wish what someone said comes true? This is your idiom fit for that. 'Dilang anghel' means wishing that something that was said comes true. Dila means tongue while anghel is your Tagalog word for angel. This idiom literally means 'angel tongue.'


Pagputi ng uwak

Literally means 'once the crow turns white.' We all know that it wouldn't happen and that is somehow reflected in this Filipino idiom. An idiom to put up your sleeve and put it in use when you mean to say something is most likely wouldn't happen or come true.

Namamangka sa dalawang ilog

Your Filipino idiom that means 'two-timer' or having a relationship with two different people at the same time. Cheater or unfaithful.


Labas sa ilong

'Labas sa ilong' literally means 'out of the nose.' A Filipino idiom meaning what was being said isn't true or the person didn't mean what he/she said. Those are just words.


'Bantay-salakay' means waiting until the coast is clear before doing what you want to be done. The first word means guard or being on guard and salakay means raid or attack. That person who raids the fridge but waits first for everyone to retire for the night is one good example - bantay salakay.

Kwentong barbero

A Filipino idiom that means hearsay, gossip or a story that isn't true. Literally means 'barber story.' Kwento is your Filipino word for story and barbero for barber.



Carl Witt on July 22, 2020:

Bookmarking for permanent reference! :)

precy anza (author) from USA on July 14, 2018:

Yes they are indeed interesting @Linda :) And I did learn few other English idioms along the way while writing this. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 06, 2018:

I think that English idioms are very interesting. I can see that Filipino ones are, too! Thank you for sharing the idioms and their meanings.

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