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Wala / Dili

These are two of the most misunderstood and confused words in Cebuano for a student of the language.

 

If you look up the meaning of the words you will usually see it explained thus:

 

Wala – nothing / absence of

Dili – No

 

This simplistic translation will get you by most of the time and most Cebuano’s will not correct you if you use the wrong word.   If you pick up on the fact that this explanation does not fit the way the words are used then you will become very confused.  Try asking your average Cebuano or even many highly educated Cebuano’s why and they will be unable to tell you.

 

I have yet to find any book or reference that provides an explanation of the correct use of Wala and Dili.

 

Here it is

 

Wala – nothing / absence of (used for past / progressive tense)

Dili – no (future tense)

 

Eg.

 

In these examples we will assume a negative answer.

 

May kwarta ka ba? – Do you have money?

 

using the simplistic example you would expect to be able to answer with DILI

 

After all that means NO?

 

WRONG

 

The correct answer is WALA

 

Mokuha ka ba ug kwarta? – Will you get money?

 

If you had already learnt that the correct answer for the first question asking if you have money is WALA then be might be tempted to answer WALA.

 

WRONG

 

The correct answer is DILI

 

The above is a good example of why you really need access to a teacher when learning this language.

 

The next to lessons about PA and NA will provide more examples.

2 Responses to “Wala / Dili”

  • Annely:

    This page is a pretty accurate breakdown of “Wala” and “Dili”
    Good job English-speaking Expat! :)

    Basically, anything involving a quantity or existence of something (e.g. there is, i have, etc.) uses “Wala” or its short form “wa”, while any statement that involves an action (e.g. read, eat, etc.) or a negative statement of “being” (e.g. is not, are not, am not, etc.) will use “Dili” or its short form “Di”

    Tenses (the ones mentioned above) should definitely be kept in mind when deciding which of the 2 to use. For example:

    “Wala ko nangompra” – I did not go shopping.

    Even though that statement is negating a verb/action, it was done in the past, and therefore, “Wala” must be used. Kind of like “The fact of me shopping, does not exist.”

  • Corazon Halasan:

    Hi

    Some thoughts on wala and dili. But first some background so you know my limits here.

    I just stumbled onto to your blog. My family immigrated to the USA when I was 10 (decades ago) and we didn’t speak it while in the US. Anyway my Cebuano knowledge is basically “intuitive” and at a basic level. I lack some basic structure and need lots more vocablualry.

    Wala: can refer to absence of things (or feelings) in past or present
    Dili: can refer to future action

    Yes, it is so confusing. The reason the answer to ‘Do you have money?’ is wala is because you currently do not have this thing called money, i.e., there is an absence of it in your possession. The answer is not dili because you weren’t asked about any action about money (though you might be tempted to say “having money on hand” is an action) to be done in the future. While wala is used to refer both to things and actions, it’s the fact of being in the past or pregressive tense that makes it the choice to use (when choosing between dili and wala); AND, while a non-native speaker might be tempted to say no (dili), Visayans would automatically think also about “absence/ presence of a thing or a feeling” and thus choose wala.

    Secondly, I can’t think of an example at this moment of the use of dili in talking about things being absent in the past tense. Maybe someone else can.

    Thanks for the blog!
    Corazon

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