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Does Indonesian Have Tenses?

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Like nouns, verbs are an essential part of all sentences. They are the words we use to describe an action (menyanyikan – to sing), a state of being (hidup – to exist), or an occurrence (mengembangkan – to develop), and they usually have to agree with a subject, which is who or what performs the action described. 

Generally, no sentence is complete without a verb. This makes it crucial to pay special attention to verbs when learning a foreign language.

Luckily for you, there are no real tenses in Indonesian to worry about. In this article, you’ll learn more about what this means and how to form the main English tenses in Indonesian. By the end of it, you’ll have taken a great leap toward using Indonesian verbs with ease.

We’ve tried to write this article in a way that’s not complicated or grammar-heavy at all. We’ll break down every rule thoroughly for you, so that you understand each one and can put it to good use throughout your Indonesian language-learning journey.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Personal Pronouns in Indonesian
  2. How to Use English Tenses in Indonesian
  3. Expressing the English Present Tense in Indonesian (Masa Sekarang)
  4. Expressing the English Past Tense in Indonesian (Masa Lalu)
  5. Expressing the English Future Tense in Indonesian (Masa Depan)
  6. Tenses in Indonesian: A Summary

1. Personal Pronouns in Indonesian

First of all, let’s look at the personal pronouns, which can sometimes cause confusion.

  • I = Saya / Aku (formal / informal)
  • You = Anda / Kamu (formal / informal)
  • He = Dia
  • She = Dia 
  • We (including the person you’re talking to) = Kita
  • We (excluding the person you’re talking to) = Kami
  • They = Mereka

The beautiful thing about Indonesian is that once you know the personal pronouns, you can start learning some verbs and begin practicing straight away.

2. How to Use English Tenses in Indonesian

Verb tenses are used to express when an action takes place. In our everyday lives, we mainly have to express three concepts: the present, the past, and the future. 

Forming tenses is actually quite simple in Indonesian, since you don’t need to conjugate the verbs at all to do it.

Yes, you heard that right—there are no changing endings involved, nor any need to change the verb at all! All you need to do is add some extra words. Let’s find out which ones.

A Timer against a White Background

3. Expressing the English Present Tense in Indonesian (Masa Sekarang)

The present tense in English can be used in Indonesian to express:

  1. an action happening in the present or a state of being;
  2. an occurrence that will take place in the (very) near future;
  3. an action that occurred in the past and continues up to the present;
  4. a recurring action.

For the simple present tense, we use the basic form of the verb, unchanged. Note that the verb does not change at all (belajar – to study/learn). The only thing that changes in this case is the subject (Saya – I, Mereka – They, Dia – He/She).

  • Saya belajar setiap malam.
    I study every night.
  • Mereka belajar setiap malam.
    They study every night.
  • Dia belajar setiap malam.
    He/She studies every night.

With the English present tense expressed in Indonesian, we can use a variety of time adverbs to be more precise. The most used ones in Indonesian are: 

  • selalu = always
    Ani selalu bahagia. (Ani is always happy.)
  • sering = often/frequently
    Saya sering bepergian ke kota lain. (I often travel to other towns.)
  • kadang-kadang = sometimes
    Kadang-kadang saya bosan dengan hidup saya. (Sometimes I feel bored with my life.)
  • tidak pernah = never
    Tono tidak pernah bisa berkata tidak. (Tono never says no to anyone.)

Expressing the English Present Continuous Tense in Indonesian

To form the English present continuous (for example: “I am studying”) in Indonesian, which describes an action that is taking place right now, we simply need to add the word sedang before the main verb. The actual verb remains unchanged: 

  • Saya sedang belajar.
    I am studying.
  • Mereka sedang belajar.
    They are studying.
  • Dia sedang belajar.
    He/She is studying.

This form is used when you want to specify that something is happening at the specific moment. But keep in mind that even if you don’t use the word sedang, the meaning could still be translated as the English present continuous.

An Indonesian College Student

4. Expressing the English Past Tense in Indonesian (Masa Lalu)

The past tense in Indonesian is used to express:

  1. an action, occurrence, or state of being in the past;
  2. an action, occurrence, or state of being prior to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future. 

To form the past tense, you do not need to change the verb at all. You just need to add some extra words. As we already explained, Indonesian verbs do not have conjugations; to form the past, we simply need to add the words sudah or telah before the verb (makan – to eat).

  • Saya telah makan nasi.
    I ate / have eaten rice.
  • Saya sudah makan nasi.
    I ate / have eaten rice.

Another way of describing an action that happened in the past is to add “time words.” In this case, you don’t necessarily need to use sudah / telah (but you can, if you want), as it’s already clear from the context that the action occurred in the past. 

Some of these “time words” are: 

  • kemarin = yesterday
    Dia tidur kemarin. (He/She slept yesterday.)
  • tadi pagi = this morning
    Saya minum teh tadi pagi. (I drank tea this morning.)
  • minggu lalu = last week
    Kamu pergi ke mana minggu lalu? (Where did you go last week?)

This means that, to talk about the past in Indonesian, you simply need to learn words that specify times in the past. Pretty convenient, right?

Here are some more words that you’ll find useful when talking about past events: 

  • This afternoon = Siang ini / Tadi siang
  • This evening / Tonight = Malam ini / Tadi malam
  • Yesterday morning = Kemarin pagi
  • Yesterday afternoon = Kemarin siang
  • Yesterday evening  = Kemarin malam

  • Last week = Minggu lalu
  • Last month = Bulan lalu
  • Last year = Tahun lalu

  • … minutes ago = … menit yang lalu
  • … hours ago = … jam yang lalu
  • … days ago = … hari yang lalu
  • … weeks ago = … minggu yang lalu
  • … months ago = … bulan yang lalu
  • … years ago = … tahun yang lalu

An Indonesian Child Waving a Small Indonesian Flag

5. Expressing the English Future Tense in Indonesian (Masa Depan)

In Indonesian, we use the future tense to express:

  1. an event expected to happen in the future;
  2. an event expected to happen after another event, whether that is the past, present, or future (in a relative tense term).

To form the future, as with all the other tenses, we only need to add a word: akan. By adding this word before the verb in Indonesian, we specify to the listener that we’re talking about the future. Have a look at the examples below:

  • Saya akan tidur.
    I will sleep.
  • Die akan minum teh.
    He / she will drink the tea.
  • Kamu akan makan nasi.
    You will eat rice.

Exactly as we use “time words” to give more context when we want to express an event that happened in the past, we can use different “time words” to give more details about what we’re talking about in the future. However, you’ll generally need to include the word akan (while, as we mentioned, in the past sudah and telah can be dropped when we use time words.) 

Here are some words that you’ll find very useful when talking about future events with native Indonesian speakers:

  • Tomorrow = Besok
  • The day after tomorrow = Lusa

  • Later this morning = Nanti pagi ini
  • Later this afternoon = Nanti siang ini
  • Later this evening / Later tonight = Nanti malam ini
  • After = Setelah

  • Tomorrow morning = Besok pagi
  • Tomorrow afternoon = Besok siang
  • Tomorrow evening / Tomorrow night = Besok malam

  • Next week = Minggu depan
  • Next month = Bulan depan
  • Next year = Tahun depan

  • … minutes later = … menit ke depan
  • … hours later = … jam ke depan
  • … days later = … hari ke depan
  • … nights later = … malam ke depan
  • … weeks later = … minggu ke depan
  • … months later = … bulan ke depan
  • … years later = … tahun ke depan

  • … days from now = … hari lagi
  • … weeks from now = …minggu lagi

A Spiraling Clock

6. Tenses in Indonesian: A Summary

We hope that with this short article you were able to gain some insight into forming the English tenses in Indonesian and how to use them to talk about the past, present, and future!

As you’ve seen, learning how to use verbs and verb tenses in Indonesian is actually quite simple. 

Just remember the right words to insert in the sentence (sedang for the present continuous, telah / sudah for the past, and akan for the future) or add some “time words” that provide context and it’s all done! 

No complicated conjugations, strange endings, or irregular verbs to remember… It sounds ideal as long as language learning goes

If you want to learn more about grammar and have access to much more Indonesian learning material and info, visit IndonesianPod101.com. Here, you’ll find lessons for all levels, podcasts, word lists, a dictionary, and  grammar material. 

So what are you waiting for? Start learning and practicing Indonesian with us every day, and you’ll be able to master the use of Indonesian verbs and tenses in no time at all! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments how you feel about this topic so far. Do you feel more confident, or still have some questions? We look forward to hearing from you.

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