Indonesian Grammar for Travellers
This part of the Conversational Indonesia short course deals with useful Indonesian grammar. Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian National Language, is at first an easy language to learn. Not having tenses, you can quickly put together the necessary words to communicate. In most places it is the peoples' second language, so they often don't use correct grammar when speaking either, especially to foreigners.
There are, however, a couple of things that you should pay attention to. Firstly, the appropriate word for “you” or “I” changes with who you are speaking to. Secondly, to be polite, Indonesians use the passive tense when requesting something. This usually takes the form of “will be done by …”. In English this type of language is used in a legal context or formal notices.
For those who don’t need a precise knowledge of the Indonesian language, a few general rules will enable you to carry on a reasonable conversation.
Word Order in Bahasa Indonesia
The word order of spoken Bahasa Indonesian is often in the reverse order to English for sentences of similar meaning. This is because adjectives go after nouns, rather than before, and the passive tense is commonly used. Also, Indonesians seldom begin a sentence with “I” or “you”. These are not hard and fast rules, but they are a good place to start.
Tenses in Bahasa Indonesia
Verbs do not change their form in the different tenses. Instead, sudah (already) is used to indicate the past tense; akan (will/shall) is used to indicate the future tense, and sedang (in the process of doing something) is used to indicate the continuous tense.
Prefixes and Suffixes in Bahasa Indonesia
Prefixes and suffixes are added to the root word to form related parts of speech, namely:
1. me + root – transitive verb (has object) eg. mencari (to look for).
2. me + root + kan – causative transitive verb (to cause something to be done) eg. menjelaskan (to clarify).
3. ber + root – intransitive verb (no object) eg. berdiri (to stand).
4. di + root – denotes passive tense (something to be done by someone else) eg. dicuci (to be washed); or, takes emphasis off the subject.
5. di + root + kan – passive form of causative verb eg. dihabiskan (to be finished).
6. me + root + i – transitive verb showing direction e.g. menempati (to place something); or, if action is repeated, eg memukuli (to strike repeatedly); object is stationary (no preposition) eg mendekati (to approach).
7. di + root + i – passive form of 6) eg. ditempati (to be placed).
8. pe + root – the person who does the action of the root word,
eg. penulis (writer).
9. root + an – changes root word into a noun e.g bungkusan (package).
10. pe + root + an – denotes “collective noun” (English -ion) eg. penerang-an (information).
11. ke + root + an – abstract noun (English -ness or -ity) eg. kebersihan (cleanliness).
12. ter + root – superlative eg. terbesar (largest); or, accidentally eg terjatuh (fell); or, unexpectedly eg terkejut (startled); or, “in the state of” e.g. terpesona (spellbound).
Note: Do not be put off if this sounds complicated. It is still possible to carry on a conversation without using the above prefixes and suffixes, as your meaning can be picked up from the context in which the words are used.
Examples of Prefixes (Awalan) and Suffixes (Akhiran)
– to go down, descend
to descend into something
to drop, reduce to inherit, descent reduction, decline descendent, generation.
– to involve use of, with, by
to wear, use, make use of
to put something on for
used (up), void, applied
– to enter, go in
to put in (to)
possessed (by spirits)
– to gather, assemble
to gather, assemble
club, association, meeting
finished (adj), so, therefore,
to make, to cause, bring
creation, to happen
to happen, to consist
The “me – root” form of the verb is the most complicated, because it varies depending on the first letter of the root word, namely:
|mem – (p*, b, f)
men – (t* d, c, j)
meng + (k*, g,
meny – (s*)
|eg membaca/to read,
memukul (pukul)/to hit
eg menulis (tulis)/to write, mendorong/to push
eg mengumpul (kumpul)/to
collect, menggambar/to draw eny – eg menyapu (sapu)/to sweep
* letters indicated with an asterisk are dropped when prefix is used, letters without asterisk are retained when prefix is used.
BAHASA INDONESIA PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
ambil, Anda, makan
bayar, ambil, lembab
itu, mari, siapa,
kecil, ikut, mogok
nasi, manis, sabun
oli, kopi, benio
rendah, piring, kabar
girl, good, leg
now, any, son
NOTE: Indonesian pronunciation is very regular. The way each letter is pronounced does NOT vary with different words.
* denotes old spelling which is still used in names