Tricky Spelling: Philippines Vs. Filipino

Commonly confused words can be tricky for language learners (and native speakers too) but can also be interesting teaching points. Recently a staff member at ESL Library mentioned that it would be great to have a post on the spelling of Philippines and Filipino. Why is the country spelled with a “ph” but the language and people with an “f”?

Historically Speaking


In 1542 after the Spanish conquest, the Spanish named the islands las Islas Filipinas after King Philip II (the name Philip being Felipe in Spanish). The English spelling of the country name became the Philippines (since Philip is the English spelling of the name Felipe). Since there was no /f/ sound in almost all of the islands’ many languages and dialects at that time, the country name was pronounced Pilipinas (with a /p/ sound) by the native inhabitant of the Philippines.

Today, we say the Philippines in English and Filipinas in Spanish and Filipino. However, many Filipino people still prefer to call their country Pilipinas.


The two current official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and English. Filipino is spelled with an “f” in almost all languages, including English and Spanish. There was a time where Filipinos called their language Pilipino, but its official name is now Filipino.

Interestingly, there are approximately 182 languages in the Philippines, 12 of which have more than one million speakers each and are spoken by more than 90% of the population. The Filipino language was developed in the 19th century and is mainly based on Tagalog, which was the language spoken in the capital of Manila.


The terms Filipino (male) and Filipina (female) are used for the inhabitants of the Philippines. These words function as both nouns and adjectives (e.g., a Filipino [noun] / Filipinos [noun] / Filipino people [adjective]). English never came up with a suitable equivalent (possibly because the use of Filipino for an inhabitant of the Philippines only came about in the late 19th century), so the Spanish Filipino (with the “f” spelling) was adopted into English.

Like with the country name, many Filipino people still prefer to call themselves Pilipino.

What commonly confused words or spelling difficulties come up in your classroom? Share them with us in the comments section below. You might even inspire another blog post!


See blog posts on Lay Vs. Lie, Especially Vs. Specially, Everyday Vs. Every Day, and many more commonly confused words in this post: 150 Grammar and Teaching Resources. Within that post, scroll down to the section called “Spelling & Vocabulary” for the complete list!


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  1. Tara Benwell says:

    Jun 21, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Interesting! I used to struggle with which letter(s) to double when writing Philippines. You never know whether to spell a person’s name Philip or Phillip. I’ve just read that a double l is more common for the surname.


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 21, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      I agree, Tara! I think the double l is more common for a first name in English as well, so it’s natural to want to spell it “Phillippines.” We spell it Philippines because the Spanish name “Felipe” only has one l, I assume.


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