Cebuano Grammar: Expressing One's Ability/knowhow To Perform An Action


Foreigners are often asked by the locals if they can speak the local language.  The question goes l...

Foreigners are often asked by the locals if they can speak the local language.  The question goes like this:

Q:  Kahibawo ka ba magBinisaya? ("Kahibawo" comes from "makahibalo" and shortened to 'kahibalo' it is used to ask if someone has the knowledge or knowhow to perform an action or knowledge about something.  It goes with the verb in the infinitive form which is mag+basic verb or mag+noun.  For now, the lesson is limited to some verbs that are common and used more frequently.

Another way to ask this of a foreigner is:

Q:  Makasulti ka ba ug Binisaya? (This means "Can you speak Visayan?")

Continue reading the dialogue:

Q:  Kahibawo ka ba magBinisaya?
      Do you know how to speak Visayan?

Answer 1:  O, kahibawo ko magBinisaya.
      Yes, I know how to speak Visayan. 

Answer 2: Dili.  Dili ko kahibawo magBinisaya.
       No,  I don't know how to speak Visayan.

Answer 3:  O, kahibawo ko gamay.
       Yes, I know a little.

Study the following sentences:

Makasayaw ko ug Tango.   
I can dance the Tango.
dance: sayaw

Kahibawo ko mosayaw ug Tango.
I have knowledge to dance the Tango.

Kamao ko mosayaw ug Tango.
I know how to dance the Tango.

To express our ability to perform something, the basic thing to remember is the simplest structure which is: simply use the prefix  maka + basic verb  For example:

can dance - makasayaw
can cook - makaluto
can sing   - makakanta
can speak Visayan - makasulti ug Binisaya

Now, let's go further by creating sentences from the above mentioned verbs:

1. Makasayaw ko ug Tango. (I can dance the Tango.)
2. Makaluto ko ug adobo.  (I can cook adobo.)
3. Makakanta ko ug Japanese nga kanta. ( I can sing Japanese songs.)
4. Makasulti ko ug Binisaya. (I can speak Visayan.)

Another way to express one's ability to perform an action is to use the word "kamao".  "Kamao" means possessing the ability to perform something.  So, let's apply this to the previous sentences.

1. Kamao ko mosayaw ug Tango.  (I possess knowledge to dance the Tango.)
2. Kamao ko magluto ug adobo. (I possess knowledge to cook adobo.)
3. Kamao ko mokanta ug Japanese nga kanta. (I possess knowledge to sing  Japanese songs.)
4. Kamao ko mosulti ug Binisaya. (I possess knowledge to speak Visayan.) 

You might wonder what is the difference between the two sets of sentences structurally, so let's analyze the second set.  As you notice, they all start with the word "kamao" followed by the subject "ko" and the verb in the infinitive form (to+ verb).  In Visayan, the infinitive form will depend on the focus of the verb (This will be discussed thoroughly in my one-on-one lessons).  You may change "ko"  with any subject you wish to use.  

You can use any of the following subjects to replace "ko."

1. Siya (he/she)
2. Akong nanay (my mother)
3. Imong igsuon laki (your brother)
4. ang mga estudyanti (the students)

And the last way is the use of the word "kahibawo".  "Kahibawo" means  knowledge.  So, you are literally saying:  I possess knowledge to do something.  Let's apply this in the sentences that we have been studying thus far:

1. Kahibawo ko mosayaw ug Tango. (I possess knowledge to dance the Tango/I know how to dance the Tango.)
2. Kahibawo ko magluto ug adobo.  (I possess knowledge to cook adobo./I know how to cook adobo.)
3. Kahibawo ko mokanta ug Japanese nga kanta. (I possess knowledge to sing Japanese songs.)
4. Kahibawo ko mosulti ug Binisaya. ( I possess knowledge to speak Visayan.)

 So, do you think you can now say:  Kahibawo ko mosulti ug Binisaya/Kamao ko magBinisaya/makasulti ko ug Binisaya to the locals?  I hope so.  I close this topic with a challenge.  Try saying the following in Visayan, the first one who gets the 5 items correctly gets a free lesson in Visayan:

 1.  Can you dance the cha-cha?
 2.  Can you cook  sinigang?
 3.  Can you play the guitar?
 4.  Do you know how to play football?
 5.  Can you sing the "Star-spangled banner?"

Good luck!

illustration from

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Cebuano Teacher: Cebuano Grammar: Expressing One's Ability/knowhow To Perform An Action
Cebuano Grammar: Expressing One's Ability/knowhow To Perform An Action
Cebuano Teacher
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