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Your Complete Guide to the World of Indonesian Pronouns

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Is Indonesian easy or hard?

Both.

It’s hard because the structure and organization of the language is quite different from that of English or other European languages.

But it’s easy because you don’t have to remember a lot of complicated rules—you can pick up most of the differences just by looking at examples.

Take Indonesian pronouns for example. You can actually get further in Indonesian without pronouns than you might imagine. When people talk to you, though, this is something you’ve really got to know.

And Indonsian language pronouns are different from those in English, by a wide margin.

 Is that going to be hard? Only one way to find out.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. The Standard Indonesian Personal Pronouns
  2. Using Ordinary Words as Personal Pronouns
  3. Using Pronouns as Affixes
  4. This, That, and the Other
  5. Question Words
  6. Yours and Mine
  7. Conclusion

1. The Standard Indonesian Personal Pronouns

Introducing Yourself

All right, Indonesian personal pronouns is the trickiest part, and we’re going to jump right in. There are a lot of pronouns in Indonesian. Not quite as many as, say, Vietnamese or Korean, but it’s a whole different ball game compared to English.

The first personal pronoun that everybody learns is saya. Now, Indonesian pronouns don’t change according to the case, so there’s no difference between “I” and “me.” Saya does the trick every time.

  • Saya dari Melbourne.

“I’m from Melbourne.”

  • Mau pergi dengan saya?

“Want to go with me?”

Saya is slightly formal, but really quite neutral in tone. It would definitely sound weird for Indonesian kids or close friends to say it when talking to one another, but you’ll very often hear it on TV shows or in real-life situations when the conversation partners have some distance between them.

The informal version of saya is aku. You’ll hear this all the time in media as well, and if you become friends with Indonesians, you’ll be able to beraku, or “use aku in speech” with them pretty soon.

  • Aku tidak tahu.

“I don’t know.”

The formal second-person pronoun is Anda. This is actually the only one that’s always capitalized.

  • Apakah Anda punya mobil?

Do you have a car?”

Silver Car

The informal version is kamu. Many times, it will be truncated to kau in writing and speech. This is also the short form of engkau, a literary or poetic form not often used in speech.

  • Masa itu, kau belum tahu aku sudah tinggal di Jakarta.

“At that time, you didn’t yet know that I was living in Jakarta.”

Some learning resources will pair saya and Anda, and aku and kamu, but others will mix saya and kamu. Go with what you’re hearing other people use in real life, and be prepared to be flexible!

 The third-person pronoun is relatively simple: in most cases, it’s dia for people of all genders.

  • Dia sudah makan belum?

“Has he/she eaten yet?”

Only in particularly formal contexts would you use beliau as a third-person pronoun. It’s used for talking about people whom you respect greatly, like a public figure.

  • Saat itu, beliau belum menjadi presiden.

“At that time, he/she had not yet become the president.”

In writing, you’ll also see the form ia. This is actually quite an old word, and it can only be used as the subject of a sentence, never the object. Dia used to be the object form, but nowadays it’s used as both subject and object.

 We’re nearly through! Now we have the plural pronouns to think about.

For first-person pronouns, Indonesian distinguishes between inclusive plural (you and me) and exclusive plural (me and somebody else but not you). Kita is the inclusive word, and kami is the exclusive. Since English doesn’t make this distinction, be careful to understand the nuances when you see a translation!

  • Ayo kita pulang sekarang.

“Let’s (including you) go home now.”

  • Kita ada acara hari ini.

“We (including you) have an event tonight.”

  • Kami akan bertemu denganmu besok.

“We’ll meet with you tomorrow.”

  • Kami akan berangkat dulu.

“We’ll (not you) head out first.”

The second-person plural form is kalian, and the third-person is mereka. No extra levels of formality here!

  • Kalian mau makan apa hari ini?

“What do you all want to eat today?”

  • Mereka lahir di Surabaya.

“They were born in Surabaya.”

Although many people still disapprove, mereka is being used more and more to refer to animals. Before, the tradition when referring to animals was to omit pronouns entirely or simply use the actual noun.

2. Using Ordinary Words as Personal Pronouns

Don’t worry, it’s not like every word in Indonesian is going to turn into a pronoun on you. Only a few of them!

The words ibu, or “mother,” and bapak, or “father,” are usually shortened to bu and pak. Then they get used as the second-person (and sometimes the first-person) pronoun when you’re speaking to someone who’s older than you and/or in a higher position. For example, this could be an immigration officer, an administrator, or a friend’s parents.

  • Apakah sudah melihat emailnya, Pak?

“Have you seen the email already, sir?”

This, then, is the most common way for people to speak formally, instead of using saya and Anda with everybody.

When young people talk with people their own age in a polite context, with restaurant employees for example, they’ll use a different set. Here, mas refers to men and mbak refers to women.

  • Permisi Aas, minta air putih.

“Excuse me sir, some water please.”

Calling Waiter’s Attention

You’ll note that mb at the start of a word is a pretty unusual sound combination. These words are actually borrowed from the Javanese language.

Although people might not use them in some of Indonesia’s more far-flung islands, they’ll be understood everywhere. Kakak is a gender-neutral version, seen most everywhere shortened to kak.

  • Permisi Kak, sudah selesai?

“Excuse me, are you already finished?”

And did you know that Indonesians even borrow pronouns from other languages?

In Jakarta slang (which is very popular on TV), the most informal pronouns are gue for “I” and lu for “you.” These actually come from Hokkien, a Chinese language spoken by the first Chinese immigrants to Indonesia and Malaysia. Since they’re so informal and unstandardized, you’ll also see them written as gua/wa and lo/lue.

 Also borrowed from Chinese are koko and cici, the equivalents of mas and mbak in Jakarta. These meant “older brother” and “older sister” in Hokkien, and so the feelings of societal standing continue into Indonesian.

  • Maaf ya Cici, gua nggak lihat lu.

“Sorry miss, I didn’t see you there.”

The English translations of these phrases can sound a little stilted. That’s because in Indonesian, the pronoun is used far more than in English. This creates a feeling of respect and politeness, and if you don’t use the pronoun as much, you might be seen as a little bit rude.

Indonesian has no special forms for object or possessive pronouns. As for reflexive pronouns, there’s just one: sendiri.

You can add sendiri after any pronoun to include the specific meaning “that person and nobody else,” or to add emphasis like we do in English.

  • Dia sendiri membuat kuenya.

“She herself made the cake.”

3. Using Pronouns as Affixes

Fitting Puzzle Pieces Together

An affix can show up in Indonesian as either a prefix (before a word), suffix (after a word), or circumfix (both before and after a word).

In informal Indonesian, you can attach aku to tons of words as the suffix -ku, and kamu as the suffix –mu.

  • Mau pergi denganku?

“Want to go with me?”

  • Jangan berbicara dengan anakku.

“Don’t talk to my child.”

  • Apakah itu tasmu?

“Is that your bag?”

  • Ayo kita naik mobilmu.

“Let’s go in your car.”

You can also attach ku as a prefix to various verbs. This usage is a little tricky—you won’t see it in every novel, but it does appear in some poetic or old-fashioned writing

However, it’s certainly not formal enough to show up in speech. As a foreigner, you’re unlikely to hear it in conversation unless you’re already used to shooting the breeze with Indonesian friends.

  • Dia masih belum kutemukan.

“He still hasn’t found me.”

  • Nanti kujelaskan.

“Later on I’ll explain.”

How about kamu? As a prefix, it takes the form kau-. This is used less commonly these days, as most people tend to simply use the independent form instead of the prefix.

  • Beritahu aku apa yang kaulihat.

“Tell me what you see.”

4. This, That, and the Other

Just like English, Indonesian distinguishes object pronouns by distance from the speaker. Ini corresponds to “this” and itu corresponds to “that.”

  • Itu desa tempat bapakku lahir.

“That’s the village where my father was born.”

  • Apakah ini rusak?

“Is this broken?”

You might think that these words would get reduced in fast speech, but actually that almost never happens. They stay ini and itu instead of being shortened to ni and tu.

We just talked about attaching pronouns to words, and we can sort of do the same thing with ini and itu. However, the form changes drastically.

  • Di meja ada mangkuk hitam. Mangkuk itu milik kakek saya.

“There’s a black bowl on the table. The bowl belongs to my grandfather.”

This particular usage of the -nya suffix and the pronouns ini/itu are the closest thing Indonesian has to definite articles. They point out references to exact things in the world so that we know which bowl we’re talking about.

5. Question Words

Basic Questions

Indonesian has the same question words as English does. Check it out:

apa – what

  • Apa yang sedang kamu lakukan?

“What are you doing?”

di mana – where

This literally means “at which.” Di is one of the most commonly used prepositions, and in fact, it combines with many more words to form the other prepositions. As a set phrase, though, it takes on the meaning of “where.”

  • Di mana orang tuamu?

“Where are your parents?”

siapawho

  • Siapa yang sedang mengobrol di luar?

“Who’s chatting outside?”

So why have we introduced question words here in this article about pronouns? Because in English, we use them as relative pronouns: “That’s the place where I was born.” “I don’t like what he’s doing.” “She’s the person who is most important here.”

In Indonesian, though, we have to use the relative marker yang for some of these. It’s complicated to actually explain how yang works, but with a few examples you’ll pick it right up, guaranteed.

  • Itu tempat  saya dilahirkan.

“That’s the place where I was born.”

  • Aku tidak suka dengan apa yang dia sedang lakukan.

“I don’t like what he’s doing.”

  • Dia adalah orang yang paling penting di sini.

“She’s the person who’s most important here.”  

Let’s look at a few more examples that are often translated with the English relative pronoun “that.”

  • Ini kotak yang saya perlu.

“This is the box that I need.”

  • Ayo makan di resto yang baru dibuka.

“Let’s go eat at the restaurant that was just opened.”

6. Yours and Mine

Kids Eating Ice Cream

Talking about possession in Indonesian can be easy or hard, based on how you look at it. On the one hand, it’s easy because you don’t have to change many words. On the other hand, it’s hard because you often have to rely on the context to tell you the relationship between things and their owners.

To cut a long explanation short, there are no Indonesian possessive pronouns like “yours” or “mine.” Here’s how we express that concept anyway.

We can say the noun again:

  • Motor keren itu motor saya.

“The cool motorbike is mine.”

Or we can use the words kepunyaan (belonging to) and milik (property):

  • Kamera yang paling besar kepunyaan jurnalis yang paling penting.

“The biggest camera belongs to the most important journalist.”

  • Dompetnya milik dia.

“The wallet belongs to him.” (Literally: “Wallet [is] property he.”)

7. Conclusion

Improve Listening

In a grammar-heavy article like this one, you can easily get confused.

That’s why Indonesian in particular is a great language to read lots of examples about. Don’t rack your brains trying to get your mind around which pronouns can be used when; read the example sentences and intuit it yourself.

That natural acquisition process ends up working really well. If, at the end of this article, you’re feeling like you’re ready to take the next step, check out the lessons right here on IndonesianPod101. They’re full of clear explanations with real Indonesians providing examples.

It won’t be long at all before this stuff comes totally naturally to you!

Happy Indonesian learning! 🙂

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