Verb-tense Prefix Synonymsm

Hello first time poster!

Though I have been using this website for many years. I would say one of the reasons I am conversationally fluent in Cebuano is in large part due to this website. But one of the things I still have difficulty with is the semantic overlap of various verb-tense prefixes:

To refer to the Future-Tense I have been using the prefixes: Mu-, Ma-, Mag-, & Mang-, virtually interchangly but i dont think this is the case.

Examples sentences to this would be:

  • "Mukaon ko'g isda" - I will eat fish
  • "Mamatay siya" - he/she will die
  • "Magbayad sila'g bill" -they will pay the bill
  • "Mangaon sila sa gawas" - they will eat outside

This can also be seen in Past-Tense as well with the prefixes: Ni-, Mi-, Na-, Nang.

Examples sentences for this would be:

  • "Niadto sila sa umahan" - they went to the farm
  • "Miabot si Jesus sa Herusalem" - Jesus arrived in Jerusalem

I was wondering are there differences in usage or meaning between these various prefixes or do they all synomymously  denote Future/Past-Tense respectively?

Is what prefix we use for a given verb determined by convention or  are there actual rules to how one employs these various prefixes?

About that...

Ayo! Maayo nga nakapost na ka diri.

It is actually better to use aspects instead of tenses. The aspects in Cebuano are:
Nasugdan (incepted; action initiated) and Pagasugdan (incepting; action un-initiated).

The Mu-, Ma-, Mag-, & Mang- prefixes are the pagasugdan and the Ni-, Mi-, Na-, Nang- prefixes are the nasugdan.

To help you understand it better, I'll give you some examples:
Pagasugdan Aspect:

  • "Mukaun na ku sa isda" - I'm going to eat the fish 
    (The action, kaun, has been given the pagasugdan aspect by adding the mu- prefix, making kaun not initiated. The speaker is going to eat the fish, but has not eaten it yet - the action is about to be initiated [because of the "na" particle])
  • "Magbuhat na ko sa gimbuhatun sa saringanan" - I'm going to do the school homework
    (The action, buhat, has been given the pagasugdan aspect by adding the mag- prefix, making buhat not initiated. The speaker is about to do his/her homework now - the action is about to be initiated [because of the "na" particle]) 
  • "Mainum [ka]na nga ilimnun" - That drink is drinkable
    (The action, inum, has been given the pagasugdan aspect by adding the ma- prefix, making inum not initiated. The speaker is telling us that the drink is drinkable - no action has been done!)

Nasugdan Aspect:

  • "Nikaun na ko sa isda" - I have already eaten the fish
    (The action, kaun, has been given the nasugdan aspect by adding the ni- prefix. The speaker has already eaten the fish - the action has already been initiated ["already been" because of the "na" particle])
  • "Gabuhat na ko sa gimbuhatun sa saringan" - I am already doing my school homework
    (The action, buhat, has been given the nasugdan aspect by adding the ga- prefix. The speaker is doing currently his/her homework now - the action is being initiated at this moment ["at this moment" because of the "na" particle])
  • "Nainum [ka]na nga ilimnun" - That drink has been drank
    (The action, inum, has been given the nasugdan aspect by adding the na- prefix. The speaker is saying that the drink has already been drank by someone else - the action has been initiated in the past.

*Note:
> the "na" particle indicates a sense of "now-ness" or "right now".
> Mi- and Na- prefixes are the same
> Nag- and Ga- prefixes are the same, as both came from the prefix Naga- before it was shortened

Hope this helps! Ayo-ayo sa imong pagtuon sa Sinugbuanon.