Kumusta? and other Filipino greetings

After talking about greetings around the world with our friends in PocketCultures, I would like to give a more detailed answer to this question:

The first thing one needs to know about language in the Philippines is that we have lots of them. We’re an archipelago of different cultural communities with various languages and dialects (not to mention foreign influences that enriched our languages). English is widely spoken here and we also have the vernacular Filipino with Tagalog as its base. Up to this day, this has become an issue to some who belong in other ethno-linguistic groups. It deserves a separate post.

Going back to the question, many Filipinos greet friends/loved ones/anyone in the vernacular with the word ‘maganda‘ to describe each part of the day. In its literal sense, ‘maganda‘ means ‘beautiful’ and I’ll be using it for this post.

Two combined letters (‘ng‘) are attached after ‘maganda‘ to become an adjective.

Therefore, maganda + ng = magandang.

It’s not really “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening”. It’s more than that. It’s a “Beautiful Day” or “Magandang Araw” to accurately describe what’s ahead for you and me. Sadly, something gets lost in translation.

There’s also “Magandang Tanghali” for noontime, which probably has no direct translation in English. This may have something to do with the time of the day in taking meals (breakfast in the morning; lunch at noon; snacks in the afternoon; dinner in the evening). We just love to eat.

Then it’s followed by something borrowed from the Spanish, “Kumusta?” (from como estas).

If one would talk to younger/trendy folk, one will probably get an answer like “Okay naman.” Notice that it’s a mixture of English and Filipino.

The standard reply would be, “Mabuti naman. Ikaw?” (“I’m good. You?”)

* * *

Below are some rough rules on physical contact (applicable most of the time but not all the time). Take note that this is the conservative approach to make sure that you won’t be in trouble.

The rules above are conservative in nature but times are changing. A kiss on the cheek is common while a kiss on the lips is reserved for lovers.

There’s also the customary beso-beso (placing one’s cheek to the other or air kisses as my wife told me) between women in some circles. Between men and women, this has been adopted over time but beso-beso between men in the Philippines is a no-no. A firm handshake would do just fine.

The explanation behind this is quite simple: it’s just not ‘manly’ for most Filipino men. Macho, right?

* * *

Speech and body language are important things to take note when one talks to Filipinos. I think this deserves a different post but one tip to know if the greeting is sincere is when it is complemented with a warm smile from your Filipino friend.

Read more:
Kiss, hug or shake hands? Greeting people around the world
How now Carabao: a special animal in the Philippines
Mabuhay! Meet Bryan and discover the Philippines

About the author

Bryan Ocampo
I’m a marketing management graduate from one of Manila’s universities. After years in sales promotions, public relations, and advertising, I've chosen to pursue tour guiding as a profession. Currently, I’m working with the Philippines’ Department of Tourism as a Mabuhay Guide.
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8 Comments

  • Great informative post! I enjoyed reading it! Good explanation!

    Magandang Tanghali and Bon appetit! ;)

  • Very interesting. It’s a lovely idea behind the ‘beautiful morning’ greeting.

    Is it normal for Filipinos to speak several languages, if there are so many different languages? Which languages do you speak?

    I’m looking forward to the post on speech and body language. Sounds like an important thing to understand!

  • Bryan, there’s a Filipino member of staff here and I always greet him with Kumusta? He laughs every time and replies in Spanish! (he knows I’m South American)

  • Thanks for sharing this. The greetings reminded me of the Indian ones – though not same script wise, but technically there is a lot of similarity I feel.

  • hi everyone! thanks for the generous comments.

    @liz- great questions! filipino and english are widespread (thanks to media) but since the philippines is an archipelago, language is more diverse.

    for example, we have people in cebu island who speak ‘cebuano’, filipino, and english. it would really be great if I can learn a native language aside from english and filipino. unfortunately, this has yet to happen in our present educational system. cultural diversity has to be acknowledged and enriched.

    @ana- don’t get him wrong. he’s not mocking you :-) we get a kick out of it when a foreigner makes an effort to speak in our native tongue. it’s like listening to nat king cole sing a native song. like this one for example:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD8TtNpbS8s

    music to our ears :-) listen to the reaction of the audience.

  • I didn’t mean that he laughed AT me but WITH me :)

  • sorry about that :-) i completely misunderstood. great to know that you have a ‘kabayan’ (that’s countryman) laughing it out with you.

  • im sattisfied to that answer

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!