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Archive for the 'Indonesian Grammar' Category

Negation in Indonesian: Learn How to Say No!

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If you’ve decided to learn a foreign language, whether for work or just for fun, it’s essential to stay positive and motivated. This will make all the difference as you progress toward your language learning goals. 

As you aim for positivity and a smooth language learning journey, I’m sure you would love to always be able to say yes!

However, as you may imagine, you’ll also need to learn how to form negative sentences in Indonesian before you master the language. Don’t worry though. We only mean “negative” from a grammatical point of view…so keep the positive vibe!

In this article, you’ll learn all about negation in Indonesian: how to answer a closed-ended question correctly and politely, how to transform positive sentences into negative ones, and how to use other common negative expressions. 

We perfectly understand that saying no is never easy, especially for us people-pleasers. But we assure you it will become a less daunting task (at least from a language-learning perspective) by the time you finish this complete guide to Indonesian negatives.

So, let’s start looking at how to say no and form negative sentences in Bahasa Indonesia.

A Woman Holding Cards that Say Yes and No
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Negative Sentences
  2. How to Give a Negative Answer to a Question
  3. Other Negating Words
  4. Want to Dig Even Deeper?

1. Negative Sentences

First of all, how do we define and recognize a negative sentence?

In English, negative sentences usually have the word “not” or “no.” To negate a verb, for example, we place “not” after an auxiliary verb (do, have, be, etc.).

  • Maria is not happy. 
  • We did not go to the supermarket today. 

In short, a negative sentence is usually one that states that something is false.

Negations play a very important role in any language. If you didn’t know how to transform a positive sentence into a negative one, how to use negative expressions, or how to say “no” in general, everyday life would probably get pretty interesting (and not in a good way!).

As such, forming negatives correctly in Bahasa Indonesia is an essential part of your language learning journey. It’s just as important as expanding your vocabulary and practicing your listening, speaking, and writing skills.

The good news? Learning how to do it is actually quite easy! Indonesian grammar and syntax are very simple, and there are just a few things you’ll have to remember in order to form negatives correctly. 

An Indonesian Girl Holding the Indonesian Flag Triumphantly

Perfect Indonesian negation is waiting for you!

Indonesian Negation

There are two main words in Indonesian for negative phrases and sentences: tidak and bukan. These two words of negation are often confusing for learners and non-native speakers and, sometimes, even for Indonesians themselves. 

Some people say that one word is formal and the other informal, but this is not exactly true. Let’s see the difference between tidak and bukan, so that you’ll never have doubts about this again!

Tidak

The most commonly used word for forming negative sentences in Indonesian is tidak. This word can be seen as an equivalent of the English word “not,” but it’s also the same word used for “no.”

Tidak is used to negate verbs and adjectives, which means it’s employed in sentences that describe actions and/or qualities. Have a look at the examples below to get a better understanding:

  • Saya tidak minum kopi. (I don’t drink coffee.)
  • Kopi itu tidak panas. (The coffee is not hot.)

In the first sentence, we are negating the verb minum (to drink), which describes an action. In the second sentence, we are negating the adjective panas (hot), which describes a quality of the coffee. 

To use tidak, simply place it after the subject; nothing else in the sentence needs to change at all. Pretty easy, right? Here are some more examples:

  • Saya tidak suka apel. (I do not like apples.)
  • Dia tidak malas. (He is not lazy.)

Again, in the first sentence we negate the verb suka (to like), while in the second we negate an adjective that describes a quality: malas (lazy).

A Man Multitasking

He is not lazy.

Bukan 

Another word that we use to form negative sentences in Indonesian is bukan, which can also be translated as “not.”

Bukan is used the same way as tidak: We simply place it after the subject of the sentence to make the sentence negative. 

The difference between these two words lies in the fact that, while we use tidak for negating verbs and adjectives (actions and qualities), we use bukan to negate nouns (things, objects, and people) and personal pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they …or… me, him, them, etc.). 

  • Ini bukan pensil, ini buku. (It’s not a pencil, it is a book.)
  • Saya bukan Superman. (I am not Superman.)

In the first sentence, we negate an object (the noun pensil or “pencil”), while in the second, we negate the noun “Superman.”

Here are some more examples:

  • Ini bukan buku. (This is not a book.)
  • Saya bukan dia. (I am not him/her.)

Again, here we negate the noun buku (book) and the personal pronoun dia (he/him/she/her). 

Another interesting thing about the word bukan is that it can be used in questions as an equivalent to the English phrase “isn’t it?” and its variations. 

To do this, you simply have to attach bukan to the end of the sentence to turn it into a question. 

  • Kamu  mahasiswa, bukan? (You are a student, aren’t you?)
  • Pesawat berangkat jam lima, bukan? (The plane leaves at five, doesn’t it?)

This construction can be used when you’re unsure or doubtful about the truth of the statement and are seeking confirmation from the person you’re talking to. It’s a good expression to learn how to use and recognize! 

Once you know the difference between these two words, it will be much easier for you to choose the right one during a conversation, and native speakers will surely be impressed by your knowledge!

2. How to Give a Negative Answer to a Question

In general, all questions can be divided into two groups: open-ended and closed-ended questions. A closed-ended question is usually one that can be answered with “yes” or “no,” without needing to give any further explanation.

A Woman Trying to Find Money in Her Money Purse

No, I don’t have any change, sorry.

In English, for example, we say: “Yes, I do.” / “No, I don’t.” As we know, after saying that, we are free to give an explanation if we want to.

Logically, to respond to a yes-or-no question in Bahasa Indonesia, we’ll also start with a yes (ya) or a no (tidak). 

It’s actually not considered impolite to leave it there! If you want, you can repeat the sentence you were asked, but this might sound unnatural. For an extra touch of politeness, just add terima kasih (thank you).

3. Other Negating Words

Sure, knowing how to use tidak and bukan in all types of sentences is a great start, but there’s a lot more to learn about negatives. If you want to sound like a native, it’s essential to know how to use other common negative expressions. 

Let’s see a few more words you’ll need for negation in Indonesian:

  • nothing = tidak ada / bukan apa-apa
  • never = tidak pernah
  • nowhere = tidak ke mana-mana
  • neither = tidak dua-duanya
  • not / un- = tak 

4. Want to Dig Even Deeper?

If you’ve decided you want to learn more Indonesian grammar rules and vocab, check out all the great content available on IndonesianPod101.com. On our website and through our app, you’ll have access to all the content you need to make your language-learning experience as interesting and pleasant as possible.

You can also listen to our podcasts and audio lessons to improve your listening skills, gradually build your Indonesian vocabulary with word lists and our free dictionary, and get to discover great strategies from our top language experts on how to best approach the study of Bahasa Indonesia.

A Woman Studying Early in the Morning with Textbooks and Her Phone

If you’re learning Indonesian because you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, we highly recommend our travel Survival Course

Being able to understand and communicate with the locals in their native language will not only help you remain safe during your stay, but it will also provide amazing and unique opportunities to connect with Indonesian people and make sure your adventures are truly unforgettable. 

Sure, we hope that you’ll be able to be positive and answer yes to all the invitations and opportunities that come up. But at least now you know how to build negative sentences correctly in Indonesian, just in case. Or, like with curse words, you might not want to use Indonesian negation yourself—but at least you’ll know when someone else does.

And, if you’re learning Bahasa Indonesia to enhance your professional life, make the commitment and start practicing and studying with all of the incredible resources on IndonesianPod101.com. 

With a little commitment, you’ll start seeing improvement before you know it. 

Our content will help you stay motivated to learn so that you can reach your Indonesian language goals as fast as possible!

Before you go, try writing out a few negative sentences in Indonesian in the comments. We’ll get back to you with feedback and corrections. Good luck!

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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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How Long Does it Take to Learn Indonesian?

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Those who have tried know: Learning a foreign language may not be easy, but it’s an amazing and fulfilling process. By learning to understand, speak, and think in a foreign language, we add a new skill to our repertoire—but that’s not all! We can also change the very way we see the world.

But in today’s civilization, time is money and many of us feel too trapped by responsibilities to try mastering a language ourselves. So if you’re planning to study Indonesian, an important question to ask yourself is: How long does it take to learn Indonesian? And perhaps more importantly: Is it worth the investment? 

Did you know that Indonesian has a lot of words that can’t be translated into English? One of my favorites is faedah, which describes something that has a value and a benefit that goes beyond the commercial (and even the material) aspect. It’s a real, intrinsic value… Just like that of learning a new language! 

Everyone wants to reap the benefits of hard work as soon as possible, and this is why we all instinctively look for a fast and easy way to learn foreign languages. We want to start practicing right away and use our new skills to find a better job, to travel, or to better communicate with a loved one.

We would certainly like to know exactly how long it takes to learn a new language, so that we can make plans… But, unfortunately (or not), language learning does not work like that. There’s no one best or fastest way to learn Indonesian, and above all, there is definitely no set timetable for it! 

Everyone learns differently, and lots of different factors will influence how quickly you learn.

Let’s have a look at what these are, and maybe try to find the best way to take advantage of them to learn Indonesian fast!

An Hourglass Against a Dark Background
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Experience
  2. Learning Style
  3. Approach
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?
  5. How Our Website Can Help

Experience

One of the essential factors to take into account when trying to determine how quickly you can learn a language is your actual experience with languages. 

The Language(s) You Speak

What is your first language? And what other foreign languages do you speak? 

Yes, this may actually make a difference in how quickly you’ll be able to learn Indonesian. If you know a language very closely related to Indonesian, such as Malay, it will be way easier for you to pick it up. 

If you’re a native speaker of English, the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) classifies Indonesian as a Category II language. This is halfway between the easiest and the hardest languages to learn for English speakers!

Your Previous Language Learning Experience

Have you learned a language before?

If you’re already fluent in two or more languages (for example, if you were raised bilingual), it will be easier for you to learn Indonesian. Several studies show that bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language, because they’re more accustomed to being exposed to a new language.

Even if you’re not bilingual or fluent in a foreign language, just having studied and learned one at some point in your life will be useful. When your mind has had to get used to memorizing words and rules, and looking at different letters and symbols, it will not forget it—even after many years.

Basically, the skills you developed studying one language will actually help you learn another, even if the two languages are unrelated!  

Your Previous Grammar Knowledge

One of the first things you’ll do when learning a foreign language is to study how it’s built and how it works. This is usually done by studying its structure and grammar.

A Woman Lying on the Grass Studying

If you already have some experience studying syntax and grammar, even if just for your own language, it will make it much simpler for you to learn the grammar and syntax of a foreign language.

So, if your plan is to start learning Indonesian (or any other language), it’s definitely a good idea to get some grammar foundations to build on! 

Learning Style

The way you learn is another incredibly important aspect of how long it will take you to become fluent in Indonesian. 

Your Methods

If you limit your learning to a classroom setting, even on an intensive course, it will take you longer to learn and feel confident with your language skills outside the classroom. Try exposing yourself to Indonesian in your everyday life and I assure you that you’ll cut down the time you need to learn it! 

Make a habit of reading in Indonesian, watching Indonesian films and series, and listening to Indonesian podcasts while you drive or cook. This will help, but if you want to practice your conversation and speaking skills as well, the best thing you can do is find a language partner.

Your Time

Of course, even if we haven’t mentioned it yet, the time you dedicate to learning a language is paramount! 

If you want to learn quickly, try to dedicate as much time as you can to studying, practicing, and exposing yourself to the language. 

Practicing daily is a must: Research has actually shown that students who dedicate an hour a day to language learning—whether revising grammar, memorizing vocabulary, watching a film, or reading a book—learn significantly faster than those who just stick to weekly multi-hour classes.

And of course, if you have the opportunity, full immersion is best. If you can travel to Indonesia and live there for a while, that will make a huge difference!

A Balinese Temple

Approach

Your approach and attitude while learning a foreign language are extremely important, and might make all the difference!

Your Motivation

It’s no secret: Staying motivated and interested is essential for learning a foreign language. Why are you learning Indonesian?

Have this clear in your mind and use the reasons you find to set weekly (or even daily) goals for maximum efficiency. This strategy will not only help you stay motivated and interested in learning, but it will also make you want to put more effort into it.

Your Attitude

Keeping your motivation up will help you learn more easily and quickly, and it will go hand in hand with maintaining a positive attitude. This is a winning strategy you should adopt during your language learning journey! 

Try to see learning as a fun and interesting activity; something that you’re choosing to do, rather than being forced to do.

A Woman Holding Flowers in Front of Her Eyes

Remember: Learning a foreign language will open your horizons and mind, both on a personal and a professional level, to say the least.

When you think of it like this, you’ll always feel like learning something new every day, which will make the process more fun and much faster! 

How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?

So, even if these are all just estimates, we’ve tried to put together a timeframe encompassing how long it will take you to reach a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level of Indonesian. 

Beginner

As a beginner speaker of the language, you’ll be able to introduce yourself, understand slow and clear spoken language, and ask basic questions (probably making some small mistakes). 

If your objective is to be able to greet people, have very basic conversations, and order a meal at the restaurant, this level is probably enough. 

According to the FSI, you’ll need to dedicate a minimum of 250 hours to reach this level. If you study 15 hours a week, you’ll be having basic conversations in just 4 months! That’s pretty fast, isn’t it? 

Intermediate

Do you want to learn the Indonesian language to a more advanced level?

At the intermediate level, you’ll be able to understand clearly spoken everyday conversation, maybe asking some questions to keep up. This level will also allow you to understand the main points while watching videos and reading the news. If you’re traveling, you’ll be able to ask for information, follow directions, and have basic interactions with locals about familiar subjects.

An Indonesian Woman Wearing a Kebaya

To achieve an intermediate level, you’ll need double the time as you did for the beginner level. This means about 500 hours, which, with the same intensity of study as mentioned above, will take you around 8 months. 

Advanced

If you want to be fluent in Indonesian, you’ll need to achieve advanced language skills. At this level, you’ll have no problem navigating all kinds of situations in your daily life abroad or while traveling, and you’ll be able to have full conversations with native speakers. You’ll also be able to watch Indonesian movies and read books… Basically, you will be fluent. (Even if there will always be something more to learn about this beautiful language.)

As we mentioned above, according to the FSI, Indonesian is a Level II language and thus requires 900-950 hours of study time if you want to reach total proficiency. This means that if you dedicate 15 hours a week to studying, you’ll be fluent in just over a year! Not bad if you consider that some other, more complex, languages require twice or even three times as long!

How Our Website Can Help

What are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to start learning a new language

And, as we just saw, the sooner you start learning, the faster you’ll achieve your language objectives and start practicing real-life Indonesian. 

Looking for a great online Indonesian resource to get you started? On IndonesianPod101.com, we offer all kinds of language learning content designed to help you stay motivated and interested. Here you’ll find blog posts, Indonesian lessons for all levels, a dictionary, and vocabulary lists. 

How long it takes you to learn Indonesian just depends on you. How much time are you willing to invest in it? Our courses and resources are specifically created to give you all the right tools to learn Indonesian as quickly and easily as possible, so that you can make the most of your precious time!

Whether you’re a complete beginner who wants a full-immersion experience or an intermediate speaker who just needs to widen your vocabulary, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if this article helped you make a decision about Indonesian—or if you still have questions for us! We’d be glad to help.

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Speak Like a Native With These 30 Indonesian Proverbs

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Proverbs are popular sayings that provide a little dose of wisdom, a truth that is sometimes so obvious we overlook it. 

Can you think of a proverb in your native language that touched you at an important moment of your life?

Indonesians are actually famous for using a lot of slang words and proverbs in their daily lives. If you want to sound like a local, you’d better learn some Indonesian proverbs yourself! Doing so is a great way to let your language skills shine and familiarize yourself with Indonesian culture.

Balinese Rice Fields

As they say, “There is no time like the present.” Learn the thirty most popular Indonesian proverbs and you’ll be sure to leave a good impression!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. The Top 30 Indonesian Proverbs
  2. Conclusion

1. The Top 30 Indonesian Proverbs

1. Nasi sudah menjadi bubur.

Literal translation: The rice has become porridge.

Meaning: This is basically like Lady Macbeth’s, “What’s done, is done.” And no, it cannot be undone!

2. Ada udang di balik batu.

Literal translation: There is a prawn hiding behind the rock.

Meaning: This saying is often used to express the idea that there’s a hidden agenda or intention (usually negative) behind someone’s actions. 

3. Rumput tetangga selalu lebih hijau.

Literal translation: The neighbor’s grass is always greener than ours.

English equivalent: The grass is always greener on the other side.

Meaning: This proverb is a classic, and it exists in many different languages and cultures. Apparently, it’s an intrinsically human behavior to think that others are always in a better position than oneself.

4. Sambil menyelam minum air.

Literal translation: Drinking water while diving.

Meaning: So, in Indonesia, it’s not just about drinking (water, of course!) while diving. This expression refers to multitasking in general, managing to accomplish more than one thing at a time.

A Man Multi-tasking

5. Bertepuk sebelah tangan.

Literal translation: To clap with only one hand.

Meaning: This means that there is no reciprocity in a given situation. Imagine if one hand wanted to clap, but the other was not interested! It’s most often used when referring to romantic situations where the love is one-sided, or in business when only one party is interested in striking a deal.

6. Seperti/bagai telur di ujung tanduk.

Literal translation: Like an egg on the tip of a horn

Meaning: I mean, imagine an egg on the tip of a horn…doesn’t sound ideal, does it? And this is exactly what this saying describes: a dangerous, tense, critical situation.

7. Otak di dengkul.

Literal translation: Brain on the knees

English equivalent: Not the sharpest tool in the shed

Meaning: Though this one means the same thing as the English equivalent, Indonesians prefer to be a bit more straightforward. If you’re not the smartest, they’ll say you have your brain on your knees. Not much use for it there…

8. Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya.

Literal translation: The empty can sounds the loudest.

Meaning: This refers to people who don’t have much knowledge (or wit!). Their head is like an empty can. And it’s usually these people who speak the loudest (both literally and metaphorically!). 

9. Anjing menggonggong, kafilah berlalu.

Literal translation: The dog barks but the caravan goes on.

Meaning: Life goes on even if some people try to stop progress.

10. Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh juga.

Literal translation: No matter how high a squirrel jumps, it will eventually fall.

Meaning: The poor squirrels actually have nothing to worry about here. This proverb is most often used to describe criminals (or at least very sneaky people) who, eventually, will always be caught!

A Squirrel in the Grass

11. Sudah jatuh tertimpa tangga.

Literal translation: To fall and be struck by a ladder

English equivalent: When it rains, it pours. 

Meaning: Not only did you fall down the ladder, but then the ladder fell on you—and who knows what else might happen next! This idiom describes those situations where various misfortunes all arrive at the same time, or directly follow each other. 

12. Besar pasak daripada tiang.

Literal translation: The peg is bigger than the pole.

Meaning: This saying is often used to describe a person who is spending more than he/she earns. If the peg is bigger than the pole, you won’t be able to build a very good shelter, will you? This saying reflects the culture, as many Indonesians would rather live humbly than borrow money.

13. Ada asap ada api.

Literal translation: If there is smoke, there must be fire.

English equivalent: Every why has its wherefore.

Meaning: Well, this can mean two things. Pretty obviously, there cannot be an effect without some cause. The second meaning is: If there is a rumor, it must have some foundation in truth!

14. Tak ada gading yang tak retak.

Literal translation: Every ivory has its cracks.

Meaning: Nothing’s perfect, as even the finest ivory has cracks!

15. Dikasih/diberi hati, minta jantung.

Literal translation: You give them the liver, but they still ask for the heart.

English equivalent: You give him an inch and he will take a yard.

Meaning: This refers to a situation in which someone is taking advantage of someone else’s generosity. 

16. Air tenang menghanyutkan.

Literal translation: Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water runs calm. 

English equivalent: Still waters run deep.

Meaning: Like its English equivalent, this proverb means that a calm exterior probably hides a passionate nature, and that silent people can actually possess a lot of knowledge and be very intelligent.

A Crocodile against a White Background

17. Seperti kacang lupa kulitnya.

Literal translation: Just like the peanut forgets its shell

English equivalent: To bite the hand that feeds you

Meaning: The Indonesian version is not quite as aggressive as the English one, but both refer to someone who is being ungrateful. It can be used when someone who’s become successful forgets about his origins, his family, and his friends.

18. Berakit-rakit ke hulu, berenang-renang ke tepian.
Bersakit-sakit dahulu, bersenang-senang kemudian.

Literal translation: Rafting to the headwaters, swimming to the riversides. It is painful at first, but victorious in the end. 

English equivalent: No pain, no gain.

Meaning: We all know what this means… In order to achieve something, suffering is necessary!

19. Buah jatuh tidak jauh dari pohonnya.

Literal translation: The fruit falls near the tree.

English equivalent: Like father, like son. 

Meaning: This saying is used when a son’s or daughter’s behavior or nature resembles that of their parents.

20. Pikir dahulu pendapatan, sesal kemudian tiada berguna.

Literal translation: Think first your idea, for later regrets are useless.

English equivalent: Look before you leap.

Meaning: Don’t act until after you’ve thought about the possible consequences and dangers of your actions. 

21. Lebih baik satu burung di tangan daripada sepuluh burung di pohon.

Literal translation: Better one bird on hand than ten birds on a tree.

English equivalent: One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Meaning: It’s better to hold on to something you’ve already secured, rather than taking the risk to get something better that is not guaranteed.

22. Sekali merengkuh dayung, dua tiga pulau terlampaui.

Literal translation: One stroke at the paddle, two and three islands have passed.

English equivalent: Killing two birds with one stone

Meaning: This saying is used when you’re able to accomplish two different things at the same time, or solve two problems with a single effort.

Someone Rowing in Still Waters in Indonesia

23. Tak ada rotan akar pun jadi.

Literal translation: If there is no cane, use the root instead.

English equivalent: Better than a stick in the eye

Meaning: You don’t have exactly what you need? Well, just use what you’ve got. It’ll be better than nothing.

24. Harimau mati karena belangnya.

Literal translation: Tigers die because of their stripes.

Meaning: Those who tend to show off their wealth or superiority will attract not only attention, but also adversity—just as tigers attract attention and are killed because of their stripes. 

A Tiger Sunbathing on a Big Rock

25. Mulutmu harimaumu.

Literal translation: Your mouth is your tiger.

Meaning: Speak carefully, because words are a reflection of yourself.

26. Di mana ada kemauan, di situ ada jalan.

Literal translation: Where there is a will, there is a path.

English equivalent: Where there is a will, there is a way. 

Meaning: Determination will overcome obstacles. If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way!

27. Bagai air di daun talas.

Literal translation: As the water is on the taro leaf

Meaning: Water on a taro leaf slips away in a moment. This saying describes a volatile, flaky person who can’t be trusted.

28. Bagai pinang dibelah dua.

Literal translation: Like a betel nut split in half

English equivalent: Like two peas in a pod

Meaning: Identical; very similar.

29. Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan.

Literal translation: Like an owl yearning for the moon.

Meaning: To wish for something impossible or unreachable. 

30. Karena nila setitik, rusak susu sebelanga.

Literal translation: With only a drop of indigo, the whole pot of milk is ruined.

Meaning: Be careful, because even a small mistake can ruin an otherwise perfect work.

2. Conclusion

“All good things must come to an end…”

But it’s not really the end, is it? There’s so much more to learn about the Indonesian language! 

As they say, “Practice makes perfect!” So continue practicing your Indonesian skills on IndonesianPod101.com. With all the features we offer (audio podcasts, videos with transcriptions, word lists, a dictionary, and more), you’ll pick up this beautiful and interesting language in no time. 

And remember: Your mouth is your tiger, so learning to speak like a local is going to pay off big time!

Which of the Indonesian-language proverbs from this list is your favorite, and why? Let us know in the comments! 

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Explore the Inner Workings of Indonesian Language Grammar

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You might have heard that Indonesian is an easy, accessible language, but have you ever wondered why?

Since you’re considering learning Indonesian, you probably want to know what’s involved with the process. Are you going to have to memorize long declension tables, write out conjugations a zillion times, or cram adjective endings into your memory?

None of the above.

Indonesian grammar doesn’t require you to think in the ways that European grammar does. Instead, it’s a different challenge that people find refreshing and stimulating.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the major Indonesian grammar rules that make it particularly interesting to learn (and not particularly challenging!). You’ll soon see that understanding Indonesian grammar just takes a bit of time and dedication.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. General Rules
  2. Pronouns
  3. Levels of Formality
  4. Measure Words
  5. Active and Passive Affixes
  6. The Relative Pronoun Yang
  7. Particles
  8. Conclusion

1. General Rules

A Man in Business Attire Reading a Newspaper

Although Indonesian vocabulary is hard to remember sometimes, Indonesian grammar is generally easy to pick up.

In fact, you can often translate Indonesian sentences into English word-for-word.

That’s because Indonesian word order is nearly identical to English word order, at least in most cases. There’s also nothing like conjugation or declension to worry about—even plural forms of nouns go unmarked more often than not.

Indonesian verbs? You don’t have to worry for a moment about complex conjugations. Instead, there are creative, interesting prefixes and suffixes that let you explore new ways of thinking about sentences.

And even complex Indonesian sentences start to make sense after just a bit of dissection. As long as you know the vocabulary, you’re going to be able to read Indonesian newspaper articles and participate in text message conversations with equal ease.

So don’t be intimidated by the fact that Indonesian comes from the other side of the globe. Let’s jump in and see what Indonesian language grammar has to offer.

2. Pronouns

When you look at a language from a totally different branch than English, you can’t take anything for granted at first. For example, Indonesian has more pronouns than you probably expected!

First, Indonesian makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural. In other words, there’s one word, kita (“we: you and me”) and kami (“we: me and somebody else, but not you”). Grammatically, they function identically, but if you’re not used to making this distinction, there’s a bit of a mental leap to overcome as you suddenly have to be more specific in your thoughts when speaking.

Next, there are different pronouns based on politeness. Plenty of languages have a “formal you,” but Indonesian has casual, formal, and respectful pronouns for several different grammatical persons.

Let’s look at the “I-You” pair. In super-casual Jakarta slang, that’s gue/lu. Casually with friends (outside Jakarta), you’d likely say aku/kamu. In formal speech and with strangers, you’d use saya/Anda (note that Anda is always capitalized).

Many Indonesians don’t even use these pronouns, though—they’ll use your name or your title, or Bu/Pak (“Ma’am”/”Sir”), in place of the pronoun.

These formality levels don’t stop at pronouns!

3. Levels of Formality

A Man and Woman Talking with a Shop Owner

Many languages spoken in Asia have quite complex levels of language, ranging from “street slang” to special dialects spoken only by royalty. Since the Indonesian language isn’t that old, there’s nothing like a “royalty dialect,” but that does exist in local languages such as Javanese and Balinese.

Indonesian people tend to be multilingual, and “proper” Indonesian is seen as more formal than their local language. Therefore, informal slang terms often have a flavor of the local language.

Take the word ingin (“want”) in Standard Indonesian. In Java, you’ll hear people say kepengin or pengin—a related Javanese word—from time to time. This is considered much less formal.

Unfortunately for you, there’s not really a great way to tell a word’s formality level from its sound or spelling. Another word for “want” is hendak, an older word from Malay that’s considered relatively formal.

Learning the differences between closely related synonyms is one of the most time-consuming tasks in learning Indonesian, but after enough study, you’ll start to get a feel for the differences. It’s also recommended that you expose yourself to more of the language through literature, newspapers, and TV.

4. Measure Words

Two Slices of Rye Bread Cut Off from a Loaf

Grammar in Indonesian, like that of every language around the world, has the concept of “countable” and “uncountable” nouns. In English, you can have “one book” but you can’t have “one rice.” The first is countable, and the second is uncountable. English requires that you use measure words, or counters, for uncountable nouns: “one grain of rice.”

Indonesian requires counters for all nouns instead. It’s much like Mandarin in this regard, though perhaps a bit less strict.

The default measure word for inanimate objects is buah, meaning “fruit.”

  • Di kamar ada tiga buah meja. / “There are three tables in the room.”

This can be used for pretty much all objects, though to speak perfectly correct Indonesian you’ll need to memorize the correct counters for different shapes of objects, like potong for pieces of things.

  • Aku punya dua potong roti. / “I have two pieces of bread.”

Other than that, you’ll need orang for people and ekor for animals.

  • Aku mau setengah ekor ayam. / “I want half a chicken.”
  • Dia seorang guru yang baik. / “She’s a good teacher.”

Confusing these measure words or using sebuah sounds strange or even insulting in some cases, so make these measure words your top priority.

5. Active and Passive Affixes

A Large Book in a Library

Adding affixes to verbs is a complicated part of Indonesian grammar, but we’ll just focus on two prefixes for now: the active prefix and the passive prefix.

In a nutshell, Indonesian verbs take prefixes and suffixes to show not who did the action, but in what way the action was performed. Therefore, there is a prefix to show a verb with an object, and that prefix takes the form of me- or men-.

  • Dia sedang menonton televisi. / “She’s watching TV.”
  • Kapan kamu akan menulis bukumu? / “When are you going to write your book?”

In the same way, adding di- to a root verb instead of me– flips things around and marks the passive voice.

  • Televisi sedang ditonton olehnya. / “The television is being watched by her.”
  • Buku saya akan ditulis tahun depan. / “My book will be written next year.”

These examples seem a bit off in English, and indeed, they’re not particularly common phrases in Indonesian. However, when you compare the active sentences to the passive sentences, it’s clear to see how the prefix changes the meaning of the verb.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible with Indonesian verbs. To find out more, check out our Indonesian Verbs page!

6. The Relative Pronoun Yang

Whenever you learn a new language, there’s always something that marks a transition from being a “total beginner” to being a little bit more capable. In many languages, that’s the ability to make relative clauses, bringing your sentences to a new level of expression.

Fortunately, with Indonesian you can start to form relative clauses extremely quickly. All it takes is one connecting word: yang.

  • Ini buku yang dibeli Amron. / “This is the book that was bought by Amron.”

You can use this for animate and inanimate objects—no need to choose between “that” and “who,” as you would in English.

  • Dia guru yang mengajar bahasa Inggris di sekolah waktu saya kecil. / “She’s the teacher who taught English at school when I was a kid.”

7. Particles

A Motorcycle against a White Background

Instead of tenses, Indonesian takes after other Asian languages and uses particles to convey time aspects. Sudah marks completed actions, sedang marks in-progress actions, and akan marks future actions.

  • Apakah kamu sudah membersihkan kamarnya? / “Have you already cleaned the room?”

In many cases, though, these particles are used once or twice at the beginning of the topic and then dropped, and the context is enough to maintain the temporal consistency.

Lastly, several particles are extremely common in informal Indonesian, and they’re notoriously hard to translate.

  • Kok motor parkir di sana? / “Why is the motorbike parked (there) on the sidewalk?”
  • Jangan begitu dong! / “Don’t be like that, man!”

In these examples, you can see the particles kok, expressing surprise, and dong, expressing that what you’re saying is rather obvious. Kok can be considered the casual version of kenapa (“why”).

These particles only rarely appear in writing, and even then, only in casual online writing such as magazine articles or comment sections. Reading through comment sections under YouTube videos might be a bit mind-numbing, but it’s a great way to get a feel for super-informal Indonesian that you won’t find in textbooks.

8. Conclusion

As you can see, Indonesian really isn’t that far off from English in a lot of places. When you look at a list of Indonesian sentences with their English translations, you can really start connecting the dots all on your own.

But how much time do you want to spend connecting the dots, and how much time do you want to spend speaking Indonesian?

With IndonesianPod101, you can choose the perfect blend of resources for your learning style. You can follow along with entertaining podcasts from beginner to advanced level, and also take it slower and read through grammar and pronunciation guides aimed at learners of every level.

In no time, you’ll feel yourself picking up Indonesian words and phrases left and right, naturally assimilating the grammar in a totally effortless way. Soon you won’t have to even think about word order or verb prefixes—they’ll just come to you.

Sign up now for IndonesianPod101 and experience this effect for yourself!

Before you go: Which of these Indonesian grammar rules are new to you, and which ones seem the most difficult so far?

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Is the Indonesian Language Easy to Learn?

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Many aspiring learners wonder whether the Indonesian language is easy to learn, and if so, why more people don’t speak it.

You see, Indonesian is not a very commonly learned language for most of the world. 

Sure, there are people in Southeast Asia that pick some of it up, it’s a growing subject in Chinese and Japanese universities, and it’s long been one of the most popular foreign languages for Australians—but you hardly see it on lists of languages people want to learn. 

That’s a shame, really, because learning the language opens you up to so many wonderful things. Visiting the country when you can speak the language is much, much more freeing than being limited to an interpreter or dealing with whoever can speak some English.

You might be interested in opening those doors, but maybe you’ve been put off by long words and a spooky reputation for being a difficult Asian language. Could there be truth in that?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Is Indonesian Hard or Not?
  2. Difficulties in Learning Indonesian
  3. Indonesian is Pretty Easy
  4. Your First Indonesian Steps
  5. Advice to a New Learner
  6. The Advantages of IndonesianPod101
  7. Conclusion

1. Is Indonesian Hard or Not?

An Indonesian Speech Bubble

Indonesian, by and large, is not that hard of a language. From the perspective of someone who’s already learned it, that might not be too reassuring, but it’s the truth.

There are quite a few differences between European languages and East Asian languages. But the thing is, none of these differences are the type of thing that requires you to memorize long charts or pore over difficult grammar explanations.

For example, Indonesian has a number of suffixes and prefixes that can change a root word’s part of speech. That’s one place where learners might get confused, because sometimes, those can be pretty subtle. It takes a lot of immersion to develop the knack for knowing which one to use.

But on the other hand, there are so many shortcuts that you can take. Indonesian is the second language of millions of people across the country, spoken with great fluency but without extremely rigid rules for conversation.

Locals are also extremely welcoming to foreigners who can converse in Indonesian—even if they’re comfortable in English, they’ll happily speak Indonesian instead to let people practice! 

2. Difficulties in Learning Indonesian

Gulai Chicken

There are a couple of factors that can make Indonesian hard to learn for some people. 

Indonesian is a bit of an artificial standard, as mentioned above, so people add a lot of slang and regionalisms to it when speaking among themselves. That’s why you might find YouTube videos super-easy to understand, but the more informal speech of day-to-day conversation nearly opaque to your ear.

That kind of diglossia can be disheartening, because you’ll feel that you still have so far to go even if you can understand books and the news.

The best way to deal with this is to read more informal Indonesian, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter comments. Internet comments have a bad rap for being mindless drivel, but unfortunately, it’s exactly that kind of language register that you have to learn to understand—because it’s the way people really speak! 

On the other side of things, the prefix and suffix system definitely has its sticky points. One of the hardest concepts for people to grasp is the me-kan prefix/suffix, which is often used to signify that something was done “for somebody.”

  • Saya membaca koran Kompas.
    “I read the Kompas newspaper.”
  • Saya membacakan ayah berita hari ini.
    “I read today’s news to my dad.”

The root is baca (“read”) in both sentences. But while membaca is an act of reading for oneself, using the circumfix me-kan causes the word to mean that the act of reading is done for someone else.

Not too bad, right? Unfortunately, that’s just one example for a circumfix with a ton of different meanings! You’re probably going to have to learn a ton of examples individually.

The last thing that trips up learners is the idea that it’s okay to be vague. A lot of people never get past the idea that they want to express exactly as much information in Indonesian as they’re used to expressing in their native language. 

3. Indonesian is Pretty Easy

An Old Woman Buying a Book

You might have picked up on this already, but that last section isn’t that big of a deal. Overall, Indonesian is easy to learn as a foreigner. 

For one thing, you can just learn these complicated prefix or suffix words as individual concepts that usually map to their own separate words in English. In the example above, there’s nothing wrong with learning membaca as “to read” and membacakan as “to read for.”

Another advantage that Indonesian-learners have is that the pronunciation is quite easy in general. While you do have to know how to roll your R and use pure vowels (for more help, check our pronunciation guide), spoken Indonesian words correspond exactly to their written counterparts.

Even when people speak informally using the more casual variants of Indonesian, they reflect that in their casual writing. In English, we all write “have to” even though we say “hafta,” but in Indonesian texting and online comments, there’s no worrying about proper writing conventions.

Lastly, learners of Indonesian have a huge advantage when it comes to the verbs. Each “tense” corresponds to a single particle that’s inserted before the verb—no conjugation required. 

For past events, use sudah; for present progressive, use sedang; and for future, use akan.

  • Saya sudah membeli buku.
    “I bought a book.”
  • Saya sedang membeli buku.
    “I am buying a book.”
  • Saya akan membeli buku.
    “I will buy a book.”

4. Your First Indonesian Steps

A Little Girl Taking Her First Steps

The very first thing you should do when learning Indonesian, or any new language, is to focus on the sounds.

Make sure that you can accurately make and understand each individual sound of the language now, because later on when you’re trying to understand flowing native speech, you’ll wish you had prepared beforehand.

It would be perfect if you could find a video series with clearly spoken Indonesian and Indonesian subtitles for you to understand how the letters you see on the screen reflect the sounds you’re hearing. Even though the Indonesian alphabet is simple, this is a skill that takes time to develop.

After that, your biggest hurdle is going to be the vocabulary. Although Indonesian has some loanwords from European languages (particularly when it comes to the sciences or pop culture), the vast majority of the words come from Arabic, Sanskrit, and local Austronesian languages.

Therefore, you’ll need to come up with a good flashcard or wordlist system in order to build a strong vocabulary base from the start. 


5. Advice to a New Learner

A Traditional Indonesian Ceremony

One of the biggest mistakes a new Indonesian learner can make is trying to speak too quickly. By that, we don’t mean the speed that the words are coming out of your mouth; we mean how soon you start speaking after you’ve started learning the language.

Just like pronunciation, you should build a good base in understanding Indonesian before you try to hold a conversation. That way, you won’t be distressed by not understanding what you hear.

Also, don’t worry if it takes you much longer to understand TV or movies than it does to read your textbook or listen to a course made for learners.

As mentioned before, rapid-fire spoken Indonesian uses a lot of local slang terms. Even the words for “you” and “I” are different in informal language! Generally, the words are Anda and saya respectively, but in informal Indonesian, they’re kamu and aku—and in Jakartan slang, they become lu and gue!

Essentially, even though you’ll find Indonesian easier to pick up than some other languages, don’t expect to be able to use and understand it instantly. Keep your expectations reasonable, and you won’t be discouraged. 


6. The Advantages of IndonesianPod101

Remember a bit ago when we recommended videos with Indonesian subtitles?

It turns out that you can get exactly that for free on our IndonesianPod101 YouTube channel.

Once you’ve watched a couple of those, why not check out our main website at IndonesianPod101.com?

Although there are good textbooks and online resources available if you know where to look, Indonesian isn’t commonly learned enough to have a ton of different language courses.

What IndonesianPod101 can bring you is a structured course starting from the very basics, guiding you all the way through an upper-intermediate or advanced level. At that point, you’ll be able to smoothly transition into reading and watching real Indonesian content made for native speakers! 

7. Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the only big obstacle to learning Indonesian, or any other language, is time.

Indonesian requires a little more time for you to remember the wide array of vocabulary, but practically no time at all to learn the grammar.

In fact, the United States government rates Indonesian a 3/5 in terms of difficulty for English-speakers. That means it’ll take a little more time than learning French or German, but significantly less time than learning Arabic or Korean.

As long as you have a good and consistent study schedule, you’ll be able to hold your own in simple Indonesian conversations in less than six months. After you learn the basic sentence patterns, all you need is a good dictionary to build your vocabulary and gain the ability to understand more and more real Indonesian.

The best time to start is today. Grab a textbook—or better yet, sign up with IndonesianPod101—and you’ll be amazed at the kind of progress you can make with Indonesian.

If you’ve already started learning Indonesian, which aspects of the language are most difficult for you? And which are the easiest? Let us, and aspiring Indonesian-learners, know in the comments!

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Watch Out for These Common Mistakes in Indonesian

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There’s a certain face that people make when they can’t understand what you’re saying.

For many people, it’s a screwed-up grimace of concentration. For Indonesians, it’s more of a quiet smile and a slow drift of attention.

Indonesians are polite folks, to be sure. They’re not going to tell you very much about your mistakes in Indonesian when you’re speaking with them.

That’s up to you.

If you want to hold up your end of the Indonesian conversation, you’ve got to make sure you’re speaking Indonesian that’s beyond just “comprehensible.” It must be pleasant to listen to, and with as few mistakes as possible.

But what types of mistakes tend to be the worst for Indonesian-learners, and how can you get around them?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Tricky Pronunciation
  2. Confusing Words
  3. Is Indonesian Grammar Really That Easy?
  4. The Shape of Words
  5. Watch Your Pronoun Attitude
  6. The Biggest Mistake
  7. Conclusion

1. Tricky Pronunciation

View of Skyscrapers in Jakarta

Indonesian, by and large, is an easy language to pronounce. You could show a phrasebook to someone who’d never even heard of Jakarta, and they could make themselves understood in a couple of minutes, tops.

But there are definitely a couple of things that totally give away foreigners speaking Indonesian.

Chief among these is probably the vowels. Indonesian has six “pure” vowels: 

  • /a/ as in “talk” 
  • /e/ sort of like in “day”
  • /i/ as in “see” 
  • /o/ kind of like “go”
  • /u/ as in “you”
  • /ǝ/, the unstressed vowel in “duh” 

It also has the short “i” and “o” sounds in “bit” and “lock,” but those only appear right at the end of words before a consonant.

The common mistake in Indonesian comes when English-speakers in particular start morphing those vowel sounds into diphthongs. They’re pure vowels, and Indonesian doesn’t actually have a lot of diphthongs!

Another mistake that tends to be made more by Europeans and Mandarin Chinese speakers has to do with the “p,” “t,” and “k” sounds at the end of words. You’re not supposed to fully pronounce them.

In fact, to make these sounds, one should cut off the airflow very briefly but never release—which, coincidentally, happens a lot in English, but not in most European languages. Mandarin speakers have the opposite problem, where they find it unnatural to end words with those sounds at all!

2. Confusing Words

Little Girl Trying to Decide Between Red and Green Apple

Indonesian vocabulary can be super-easy to pick up (browse through a list of nonfiction Indonesian titles and count all the English loan words), but there are times when it can be devilishly tricky.

This isn’t helped by the fact that there are a bunch of words that sound really close to one another, but are actually false friends! For example:

  • kelapa – “coconut”
    kepala – a person’s head
  • semangat – an exclamation like “Go!” or “Hooray!”
    semangka – “watermelon”
  • mangkuk – “bowl”
    mangga – “mango”
  • handuk – “towel”
    hantu – “ghost”

If you happen to know some Spanish, you might be tripped up by the fact that dia is an extremely common word in Indonesian. However, it means “he/she/it,” not “day”! That’s hari, but since they both have similar vowels, it may take some effort to get these two words separated in your mind.

Of course, not all of these words are going to pose problems for everybody. Order susu kelapa (“coconut milk”) enough times, and you won’t even think about how close the word is to kepala.

The best way to remember confusing words is to focus on just one at a time. Studying them close to one another is a great way to strengthen the links between them in your mind and make it harder and harder to untangle the two words!

3. Is Indonesian Grammar Really That Easy?

Man Taking a Nap in the Grass

Well, yes, more or less.

You can’t make any mistakes in Indonesian relating to word genders or adjective endings. However, people do tend to get confused at times with the word order.

After all, in a language without conjugation or declension, the word order is what ends up really carrying the meaning of each sentence. In Indonesian, you can often translate sentences word-for-word into English, which makes other, more variant sentence patterns more challenging to remember.

A typical sticking point for new learners is forming questions the right way. Let’s say you want to express “Whose car is this?” The only problem is that Indonesian doesn’t have a word for “whose”!

  • Mobil siapa ini?
    “Whose car is this?”

As you can see, we just put the word siapa (“who”) after the noun, and this word order is the key that communicates possession. 

Although Indonesian doesn’t have tenses in the form of verbs changing their appearance, there are particles that signify completed, in-progress, and future actions. These include sudah, sedang, and akan. These have got to go right in front of the verb—no exceptions.

  • Mika sedang mencuci mobil.
    “Mika is washing the car (right now).”

If you know Vietnamese, then this is easy. But if you know Mandarin, you’ll have to switch things around, since the “completed action” particle comes after the verb in Mandarin. 

4. The Shape of Words

A Couple Riding Their Bikes Down a Hill

One fascinating thing about Indonesian grammar is the ability to make subtle variations on verbs by adding prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes.

If you’re new to the language, you might not have fully registered the rules for the most common prefix, meN-. Now, that capital letter isn’t really written that way. What’s going on?

The letter is here to stand for any nasal sound, such as “m,” “n,” “ny,” or “ng.” To know which one to use, look at the first sound of the root and where it’s pronounced in the mouth, then choose the ending closest to that.

So the root word baca can never be mengbaca because ng is pronounced all the way in the back of the mouth, and b is pronounced with the lips. Instead, it’s membaca!

Another pretty noticeable feature of Indonesian words is reduplication, where you simply repeat the word to mark the plural. And this leads to more common mistakes in Indonesian.

Something a lot of learners will do is reduplicate words every time they want to express the plural form, even though, in real Indonesian, the context is used more often than reduplication.

Remember: The reduplication is only really used for emphasis or when it’s not clear (but important to your sentence) that the thing you’re talking about is plural.

5. Watch Your Pronoun Attitude

A Beach in Bali During Summer

Up until this point, we haven’t touched on much that’s really specific to the Indonesian language. As much as we’d rather not, it’s easy to make word order and pronunciation mistakes in any language!

One thing that’s rather interesting about Indonesian is that there are a lot of different pronouns used for different situations. Other languages spoken in Southeast Asia kind of have this as well, but it’s not something European language-speakers tend to be familiar with.

For instance, if you’re a middle-aged man, most people are going to address you as pak or Bapak instead of using the second person pronoun kamu (“you”). Middle-aged women get bu or Ibu.

Younger people often get mas or mbak, though these are actually Javanese and not used quite as much in Sumatra, Bali, or other parts of the country.

The mistake here would be assuming that you can use the same pronouns with the same people all over Indonesia. In Yogyakarta, for instance, the informal pronouns are aku and kamu for first and second person, respectively.

In Jakarta, though, people tend to use gue and lu for the same meaning, whereas aku and kamu are reserved for lovers!

To stay on the safe side, you should stick with neutral and polite pronouns, even if others address you in a more familiar way (that is, saya and Anda for first and second person, respectively). This is something that confuses native speakers too when they move to other cities, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

6. The Biggest Mistake

Imagine you’re enjoying a tasty bowl of mi goreng at a tiny restaurant, and the owner asks you a question you don’t quite understand.

Do you say: Maaf, sekali lagi? (“Sorry, one more time?”)

Or do you nervously bolt down the rest of your noodles and leave, embarrassed and silent?

That’s the mistake too many language-learners make around the world—getting too wrapped up in their own mistakes.

And yes, lots of Indonesians can speak English very well. Some of them may become frustrated and switch to English on you at times. But there are tons more who either aren’t that comfortable with English or would love the opportunity to chat with you, no matter how many Rs you forget to roll.

7. Conclusion

There’s no way for you to be a perfect Indonesian-speaker without first being an imperfect one.

However, if you push yourself to speak a lot before you feel very comfortable, you do risk ingraining some of your mistakes and making them harder to fix later on. 

And as you reach a more advanced level and try to express more complicated ideas, you might find that smaller mistakes tend to build up on themselves and make it progressively harder to get your message across.

That’s why it’s important to always listen to and read Indonesian as much as possible. This way, you can always have good examples of real Indonesian for your subconscious to internalize. That’s what you get right here with IndonesianPod101!

What Indonesian mistakes do you make the most often? If you’ve managed to overcome a mistake, do you have any advice for your fellow Indonesian-learners? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

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Your Playbook of Perfect Indonesian Questions and Answers

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Would you describe yourself as a curious person?

If you’re learning Indonesian, we imagine that you probably do! 

You can make that curiosity work for your Indonesian skills, too! When you talk to people, they’ll be interested in who you are and what’s driven you to learn their language. And the bread and butter of that is questions.

Statistically, questions make up a big part of conversation in any language. By preparing yourself with the most common Indonesian questions and answers, you’ll become familiar and comfortable with these conversational keystones and come off as a skilled conversationalist.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Your Name
  2. Your Origin Story
  3. Language Matters
  4. Traveling Around
  5. A Personal Question
  6. A Taste of Indonesia
  7. Work-day Life
  8. What’s up?
  9. The Price is Right
  10. Conclusion

1. Your Name

First Encounter

In Indonesian, you’re going to be confused at first with the pronouns. There are a lot of different ways that people can address you, so in this article, we’ll stick to the tried-and-true saya/kamu mix.

But let’s break that rule right away, because if someone’s asking your name, they’re going to be polite with you. Don’t worry: only the pronoun changes in this Indonesian question.

  • Siapa nama Anda?
    “What’s your name?”

The word nama is a cognate of the English word “name,” but it actually comes from Sanskrit instead of a more modern European language as you might assume. 

To answer the question, switch the words around and say:

  • Nama saya Denis.
    “My name is Denis.”

2. Your Origin Story

People you tend to meet and chat with in Indonesia are even more likely to ask this question than the last. It can be so quick and to the point that you might miss it if you don’t pay attention!

As you can see, it’s not that necessary to include the pronouns. At a restaurant or cafe, you might hear Dari mana, kak? where kak is the basic form of address for young people who are older than you.

To answer, you’ll be using the dari, or “from,” preposition again.

  • Saya dari Melbourne.
    “I’m from Melbourne.”

Something you’ll pick up pretty quickly when it comes to the pragmatics, or conversation rules, of Indonesian is the way people repeat back new information. So in this short scenario above, person A would ask, person B would respond, then person A would repeat dari Melbourne back in a knowing tone of voice.

They’re not correcting your pronunciation—they’re just holding up their end of the conversation!

3. Language Matters

Introducing Yourself

The Indonesian questions here are those you’re very likely to hear while in the country, and they’re about the language itself.

  • Apakah kamu bisa berbahasa Indonesia?
    “Do you speak Indonesian?”

You certainly do! Also, as Indonesia’s influence in Southeast Asia grows, more and more people are picking up the language all around the region. You shouldn’t shy away from trying out this phrase in other countries!

The answer is probably not tidak, or “no,” for obvious reasons. Instead, if you’re not comfortable speaking Indonesian just yet, you can say:

  • Maaf, tidak begitu lancar.
    “Sorry, not very fluently.”

If you manage to answer like that, you’ll get a great reaction, something like Sudah bagus! meaning “It’s already great!” And perhaps this follow-up:

  • Sudah berapa lama belajar bahasa Indonesia?
    “How long have you been studying Indonesian?”

To answer, we’ll use the word sudah again to note that it’s already been a certain amount of time, then simply add the relevant unit and amount of time.

  • Sudah enam bulan.
    “Six months already.”

4. Traveling Around

If you happen to meet an Indonesian abroad and speak Indonesian with them, you’ll invariably get this question:

That translation is pretty broad, because what’s literally happening here is: “Already to Indonesia?” To answer, you don’t even have to change the word order.

  • Iya, sudah ke Jakarta (dua kali).
    “Yeah, I’ve already been to Jakarta (twice).”

Don’t get thrown off by this separate but similar question: Sudah lama di Indonesia? or “Have you been living in Indonesia for a long time?” In that case, you could reply with the same time-related words as before. 

5. A Personal Question

In Indonesian culture, questions can get pretty personal. It’s common for people to get married in their twenties, so someone aged twenty to thirty-five or so is liable to get some variation of these questions:

  • Sudah menikah belum?
    “Are you married yet?”
  • Sudah beristri?
    “Do you have a wife?”
  • Sudah bersuami?
    “Do you have a husband?”

Culturally, you don’t answer “no” to this question. In Indonesian, it’s much better to say belum, meaning “not yet.” And if the answer is yes, it’s still a one-word deal: Sudah! (You’ve got to say it enthusiastically, especially if your spouse is there with you.)

6. A Taste of Indonesia

Mutton Gulai Curry Indonesian Dish

You can find just about any type of food you want in Indonesian cities, particularly if your tastes skew East Asian. Home-grown Indonesian food can’t be beat, however, and you’re sure to have people asking about your opinions.

  • Apakah kamu suka makanan Indonesia?
    “Do you like Indonesian food?”

The apakah bit is kind of optional. Since the question is being asked to you, it doesn’t need that explicit marker.

In your answer, the best way to keep the conversation going is to name a specific type of Indonesian food that keeps you coming back.

  • Iya, suka! Makanan kesukaanku adalah nasi goreng.
    “Yes, I love it! My favorite food is nasi goreng.”

Let’s briefly examine the word kesukaanku, which means “my favorite.” It’s made up of four individual parts.

First, the root is suka, meaning “to like,” which we just saw in the question. Adding the prefix ke– and the suffix -an turns it into a noun: “favorite.” 

Finally, the suffix -ku is a possessive meaning “mine.” So you could have:

  • mi kesukaanku – “my favorite noodles”
  • ayam goreng kesukaanku – “my favorite fried chicken”
  • minuman kesukaanku – “my favorite drink”

7. Work-day Life

A Nurse and Doctor Looking at Papers on a Clipboard

Many people in Indonesia will assume that you’re traveling there, like most foreigners. However, sometimes something in your body language will indicate to them that you’ve been there a while. They may ask:

  • Kamu bekerja apa?
    “What do you do?”
  • Apa pekerjaanmu?
    “What’s your work?”

These questions are interchangeable, but they illustrate two ways to use the root word kerja, or “work,” in a sentence. 

First, there’s pekerjaan, with the pe-an circumfix making it a concrete noun: “employment.” Then there’s bekerja, a verb meaning “to have a job.” 

To answer, you could either replace the -mu, or “your,” possessive suffix with the -ku, or “my,” one we saw earlier: 

  • Pekerjaanku doktor.
    “I am a doctor.”

Or you could avoid dealing with extra suffixes and simply say: 

  • Saya bekerja sebagai doktor.
    “I work as a doctor.”

The word sebagai is optional here, but you’ll find it used more often than not.

8. What’s up?

Not every conversation happens with the same opening and closing lines. However, in Indonesian, you could be forgiven for thinking they do!

This phrase is a standard friendly greeting for Indonesians all over the place. You can kind of think of it as mapping to an idiomatic English equivalent.

  • Apa kabar?
    “What’s up?”

Literally, though, you’re saying “What news?” Now this is unusual, because the answer is always baik, meaning “good.”

In some textbooks, you’ll probably see the phrase bagaimana kabarmu as a more formal equivalent, but nobody really talks like that.

In a formal situation with one person speaking to a group of people, they’ll often say this standard greeting:

  • Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.
    “May peace be upon us all.”

You can also say:

  • Assalamualaikum.
    “Peace upon us.”

This one does have a set response: 

  • Waalaikum salam.
    “And upon you.”

As this is a loanword (or loan phrase) from Classical Arabic, it shows up written and pronounced in slightly different ways from person to person. If you, as a foreigner, manage to pull it off in the correct context, people will immediately perk up and pay attention.

9. The Price is Right

An Indonesian Rupiah

Rounding off here, this is one of the questions you’ll probably end up using the most day-to-day in Indonesia.

  • Berapa harganya?
    “How much is it?”

The root word harga means “price,” and the -nya makes it refer to a specific price. Namely, the price of the thing you’re pointing at in the restaurant or in the shop.

Mostly, people will just reply with the number:

  • Tiga puluh ribu.
    “Thirty thousand.”

As you can see, it’s not necessary here—or in many other phrases—to reply with a complete sentence! The context takes care of filling in any grammatical gaps.

10. Conclusion

To be honest, as long as you master the questions about your name, where you’re from, and how much things cost, you’ll be miles ahead of other learners. And all of that can be picked up in a couple of hours!

The next step is adding detail.

Where are you going in Indonesia? How much does two of these things cost?

You can come up with follow-up questions in English and then look for them in Indonesian while listening to and reading Indonesian content.

Speaking of which, IndonesianPod101.com is the logical next step to take when you’re expanding your conversation horizons. With our guided lessons, flashcards, and reading material, you’ll never be lost for words.

Have a look right now at some of the podcast dialogues, and see for yourself what kind of questions can be asked and answered!

Before you go, why not practice some of these Indonesian questions and answers straight away? Try answering one or more of the questions from this article in Indonesian, and leave your answers in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Jumpstart Your Learning with Ten Basic Indonesian Sentences

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You may be surprised at how fast you can start speaking Indonesian.

Once you get a good stock of vocabulary, all you need to memorize is a handful of customizable Indonesian sentences. Then, you can easily make people think you’re good at the language.

In Indonesian, there are some fascinating grammatical aspects concerning verbs, but for communication purposes, you can leave them out entirely—plenty of Indonesians do this, too! 

So picking up Indonesian through patterns is pretty easy. In this article, we’ll outline ten different sentence patterns ready for your plug-and-play use. By the time you get to the end, you’ll probably start noticing these patterns (and more) all over the place in your studies!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Simple Noun Equivalencies
  2. Using Adjectives in Indonesian Sentences
  3. Expressing Your Desires
  4. What Do You Need?
  5. Quick Review: Questions
  6. Simple Requests
  7. Asking Where Things Are
  8. Using “Because” in Indonesian
  9. Describing Things That Happened
  10. If This, Then That
  11. Conclusion

1. Simple Noun Equivalencies

An Expensive Watch Surrounded by Jewelry

The Indonesian word for connecting two nouns is adalah. It means something like “is,” but you’ll note in the next section that it’s used only for nouns, not adjectives. Let’s see this Indonesian sentence structure in action:

  • Hary adalah rektor.
    “Hary is the rector.”
  • Dia seorang supir.
    “She is a driver.”
  • Jam ini adalah hadiah dari istriku.
    “This watch is a present from my wife.”
  • Restoran ini adalah restoran Tiongkok.
    “This restaurant is a Chinese restaurant.”
  • Motor merah adalah motor sang presiden.
    “The red motorcycle is the president’s motorcycle.”

2. Using Adjectives in Indonesian Sentences

Maroon Motorcycle against White Background

In Indonesian sentences, adjectives always follow nouns. And for a simple noun-is-adjective kind of sentence, you only need two words!

  • Langit biru.
    “The sky is blue.”
  • Suara anjing itu besar.
    “The dog’s voice (bark) is loud.”
  • Motor merah itu bukan motor teman sekelasku.
    “The red motorcycle isn’t the motorcycle of my classmate.”
  • Mereka suka menonton film-film Korea.
    “They like watching Korean movies.”
  • Susu yang dijual di pasar malam tidak begitu segar.
    “The milk sold at the night market isn’t that fresh.”

3. Expressing Your Desires

A Tiger Laying on a Large Rock

There are a number of different verbs for “want” in Indonesian. The first and most common is mau, pronounced ma-oo with a clear distinction between the vowels.

  • Saya mau es teh.
    “I want iced tea.”
  • Anak itu mau pergi.
    “The child wants to leave.”

The next word, used just as commonly, is ingin (literally “to wish”). In informal Indonesian spoken on Java, it’s pronounced more like engin, but the meaning is the same. It’s usually followed by verbs.

  • Kelas itu membosankan dan para mahasiswa ingin pergi ke pantai.
    “The class is boring and the student wants to go to the beach.”
  • Ibu ingin menjual buah-buahan.
    “Mother wants to sell fruits.”

Lastly, the verb hendak is the most common way to say “to want” in the related Malay language, but in Indonesian, it’s something formal you’d only hear in speeches or read in books.

  • Harimau hendak makan orang di desa.
    “The tiger wants to eat the people in the village.”

4. What Do You Need? 

Sentence Patterns

Every learner should know basic Indonesian sentences for expressing needs. In English, we typically use the words “must” and “need” for this, and we can do the same thing in Indonesian. Harus is the Indonesian word for “must” and perlu is “need.”

Here are a few examples of how to use them in Indonesian phrases:

  • Kamu harus pergi sekarang.
    “You must go now.”
  • Aku perlu motor baru.
    “I need a new motorcycle.”
  • Aku harus membeli motor baru.
    “I must buy a new motorcycle.”
  • Kamu harus mengingat apa yang saya bilang ini.
    “You must remember what I’m saying.”

5. Quick Review: Questions

Two Glasses of Iced Tea with Lemon Wedges

So far, these sentences have been really simple and easy! Let’s practice the necessary verbs again, this time by adding the question word apakah, or the question suffix -kah.

  • Perlukah Anda motor baru?
    “Do you need a new motorcycle?”
  • Apakah kamu mau es teh?
    “Do you want iced tea?”
  • Apakah langit biru?
    “Is the sky blue?”

The word apa (“what”) is indispensable in both questions and answers in Indonesian. We already saw apa yang saya sedang bilang (“what I am saying to you”) in a statement format, so here’s the question version.

  • Film apa ini?
    “What film is this?”
  • Apa itu “bebek?”
    “What is a ‘duck’?”

6. Simple Requests

Sentence Components

There are two very commonly used words in Indonesian for asking people to do things for you, and of course, several more words besides. Tolong has a general sense that you really need that thing done, while mohon is simply a polite request word.

  • Mohon duduk dulu.
    “Please sit first.”
  • Tolong bawakan aku kamus Arab.
    “Please bring me the Arabic dictionary.”
  • Mohon untuk tidak makan babi di restoran ini.
    “Please don’t eat pork in this restaurant.”

You can use minta in much the same way as you use mohon, with the added ability to use it to order food.

  • Minta segelas jus stroberi.
    “One glass of strawberry juice, please.”
  • Minta cepat, ya.
    “Please hurry it up.”

That last sentence is of great use as is whenever you’re at a restaurant and particularly hungry! 

7. Asking Where Things Are

A Wallet Left on the Ground Somewhere

Indonesian uses a “locative particle,” di, instead of the typical set of prepositions we know from other languages. You can think of di as being similar to “at,” and then whatever word follows di can indicate the location more precisely.

  • Aku di kamar.
    “I’m in the room.”
  • Dompet di dalam tas.
    “The wallet is in the bag.”
  • Jangan duduk di atas meja.
    “Don’t sit on top of the table.”

By using another question word, mana (“which”), you can start asking questions.

  • Di mana dompetku?
    “Where is my wallet?”
  • Kamu berada di kamar mana?
    “Which room are you in now?”

8. Using “Because” in Indonesian

Now let’s go a little bit more advanced and use the conjunction karena, meaning “because.” Don’t worry, though; it works in Indonesian language sentences just like you’d expect it to in English! 

We had some very basic noun and adjective sentences right at the beginning of the article, so let’s replicate that pattern and see how we can connect cause and effect.

  • Dia sakit karena air kotor.
    “He is sick because the water is dirty.”
  • Orang-orang takut karena harimau lapar.
    “The people are scared because the tiger is hungry.”

Naturally, you can add verbs after karena. The only difference from English is a bonus for learners: You don’t need to repeat the subject or a pronoun. The subject is remembered from the first half of the sentence.

  • Filmnya keren karena ceritanya bagus.
    “The film was cool because it had a good story.”
  • Aku perlu motor baru karena motor saya rusak.
    “I need a new motorcycle because my motorcycle is broken.”
  • Fifi dihukum karena menyetir terlalu cepat.
    “Fifi was punished because she drove too fast.”

9. Describing Things That Happened

A Woman Eating Breakfast and Drinking Tea at a Table

Past tense in Indonesian is often taken care of through context alone. If you’re already having a conversation about something that happened, there’s usually no grammatical marking in the sentence to refer to the past tense again and again.

The particle sudah means “already,” and it’s your best bet when you want to explicitly introduce the past tense.

  • Dia sudah sarapan.
    “He (already) ate breakfast.”
  • Apakah presentasi sudah selesai?
    “Has the presentation already finished?”
  • Aku sudah membaca buku baru itu.
    “I have read that new book.”

When you ask a question about things that might have already happened, you should try to end it with the word belum (“not yet”). It’s totally fine if you say something like the presentation example above, but using belum can often sound a little more idiomatic.

  • Kamu sudah makan belum?
    “Have you already eaten yet?”
  • Dia sudah lulus belum?
    “Has she already graduated yet?”

10. If This, Then That

Like “because,” you might worry that conditional statements in Indonesian are above your level. Fear not, because it really does work in quite a familiar way! Things that might take a couple of semesters to figure out in European languages are open to you right now before the end of this article. 

The word for “if” is kalau. Here’s how it’s used in an Indonesian sentence:

  • Kalau tidak tidur, ngantuk.
    “If [you] don’t sleep, [you will be] sleepy.”
  • Aku tidak akan ikut kalau ada PR.
    “I’m not going to come if I have homework.”
  • Kalau presiden tetap berbohong, orang-orang tidak akan memilih dia lagi.
    “If the president keeps lying, people won’t vote for him again.”
  • Kalau kamu belajar bahasa Indonesia, kamu harus membaca buku Indonesia.
    “If you study Indonesian, you need to read Indonesian books.”

The other use for kalau is as a marker of a changed topic, something like “as for” in English.

  • Kalau Jakarta, terlalu macet.
    “If [we’re discussing] Jakarta, it’s too congested.”
  • Kalau di Bali, kamu harus pergi ke Ubud!
    “As for Bali, you’ve got to go to Ubud!”

11. Conclusion

We didn’t point it out explicitly, but you probably noticed the Indonesian way to express ownership, too: If teman is “friend,” teman saya is “friend I” or “my friend.”

If you go through some of the Indonesian lessons and resources here on IndonesianPod101.com, who knows what other patterns you’ll find? Your brain is absolutely wired to pick up on connections like this.

The only problem is, you might learn too fast and start speaking more than you can understand! Always balance your spoken or written Indonesian with lots of listening and reading.

Good thing IndonesianPod101 has everything you need in that regard, too—vocabulary lists, grammar and pronunciation guides, and even smart flashcards!

Check out the Indonesian learning materials right here and enjoy effortless Indonesian in practically no time at all!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if we’ve answered your questions today! How many of these Indonesian sentences are new to you? We look forward to hearing from you!

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Become A Pro At Using Indonesian Adverbs

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Nobody really sets out to memorize a bunch of adverbs.

It might even be the least exciting part of speech – but there must be a reason we learn them! The reason is, if you ever want to describe something with any kind of detail, you’re going to need adverbs. Indonesian adverbs are easy, and for every one you memorize, you’ll open up a world of language possibilities.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. How Do You Do It?
  2. Numbers and Amounts
  3. Why Did You Do It?
  4. How Often And When?
  5. Showing Tense
  6. A Lot Or A Little?
  7. Like This or Like That?
  8. Where Did You Put it?
  9. How Likely Is It?
  10. Conclusion

1. How Do You Do It?

Question Mark on Chalk Board

This is the classic adverb format – you modify a verb to explain how you’re doing that verb. Indonesian has two ways to do this, most of the time. You can either use an Indonesian adverb, or the word dengan “with” with the modifying word. You can also get away with using the adjective as an adverb, chances are your Indonesian audience will understand you anyway.

1- hati-hati – carefully

Jawablah hati-hati.

Answer carefully.

2- pelan-pelan – slowly

Jangan menulis pelan-pelan. (or dengan perlahan)

Don’t write slowly.

3- cepat-cepat – quickly

Dia cepat-cepat menghabiskan makanannya.

She quickly finished her food.

4- dengan baik – well


Cinta bekerja dengan baik di sini.

Cinta works well here.

5- dengan sempurnaperfectly

Saya tidak bisa menyetir dengan sempurna.

I can’t drive perfectly.

6- dengan indah – beautifully

Bapak bisa menulis dengan indah.

You, sir, can write beautifully.

7- dengan serius – seriously

Mahasiswa belajar dengan serius.

Students study seriously.

8- dengan mudah — easily

Kami memang dengan mudah.
We won easily.

9- dengan susah payah – with difficulty

Aku menyelesaikan pekerjaaanku dengan susah payah.

I finished my work with difficulty.

10- dengan sembarangan – carelessly

Dia meletakkan barang-barangnya di lantai dengan sembarangan.
He put his stuff on the floor carelessly.

11- tanpa sadar – unknowingly

Dia ditipu tanpa sadar.
She was tricked unknowingly.

12- dengan tergesa-gesa – hastily

Jangan memasak tergesa-gesa.
Do not cook hastily.

13- dengan rata (adj) – equally

Kami dibayar dengan rata.
We are paid equally.

14- dengan samar-samar – vaguely

Hal itu dideskripsikan kepadaku dengan samar-samar.
It was described to me vaguely.

15- dengan jujur – truthfully

Mengapa kamu tidak mengakui dengan jujur?
Why won’t you admit it truthfully?

16- dengan lancar – smoothly

Semuanya akan berjalan dengan lancar.
Everything’s going to go smoothly.

17- dengan senang – happily

Saya membersihkan dengan senang.
I happily clean up.

18- dengan fasih – fluently

Aku bisa berbicara bahasa Jepang dengan fasih.
I can speak Japanese fluently.

19- dengan kasar – rudely

Dia mengambil kertas dari tanganku dengan kasar.
She took the paper from my hand rudely.

20- dengan sabar — patiently

Ibu menunggu jawaban dariku dengan sabar.
Mother patiently waits for my answer.

21- dengan gelisah — anxiously

Pengacara itu mengetukkan penanya dengan gelisah.
The lawyer is tapping his pen anxiously.

2. Numbers and Amounts

Top Verbs

If the first category was “classic adverbs,” then this part should help you describe amounts and degrees to which things happen. That’s just as important!

1- sedikit – a bit

Kata-katanya membuat ayahnya sedikit tersinggung.
His words made the father feel a bit irritated.

2- banyak – a lot

Ini terlalu banyak.
This is a lot.

3- beberapa – some

Beberapa toko di mal ini sudah tutup.
Some shops in this shopping mall are closed.

4- lebih banyak – more

Kamu harus lebih banyak berolahraga. 
You have to exercise more.

5- kurang – not enough, less

Saya kurang tidur semalam.
I did not have enough sleep last night.

6- terlalu – too much

Saya terlalu banyak makan semalam.
I ate too much last night.

7- kurang lebih – more or less

Saya kurang lebih mengerti maksudmu.

I more or less understand what you mean.

8- Sekurangnya – at least

Sekurangnya telepon ibumu sebulan sekali.
At least call your mom once a month.

9- hampir – almost

Adi berumur hampir tiga belas.
Adi is almost thirteen.

10- bersama – together

Kami main sepak bola bersama.
We play football together.

11- sendiri – alone

Aku suka menonton film sendiri.
I like to watch movies alone.

12- cukup – well enough

Dia cukup pintar.
She’s pretty smart.

13- Selain – apart from

Selain membunuh, mencuri juga bisa dihukum.
Apart from murder, theft can also be punished.

14- terlepas dari – besides

Terlepas dari siapa dia, saya tidak percaya dia.
It doesn’t matter who he is, I don’t believe him.

15- hanya – only

Tiketnya hanya tersisa dua.
There are only two tickets left.

16- makin – get to become

Ibu makin khawatir.
Mother is becoming more worried.

3. Why Did You Do It?

More Essential Verbs

In Indonesian, what we know of as “conjunctions” can also fit the grammatical category of adverbs. Several of these are adverbial phrases instead of just one word.

1- jadi – therefore

Dia mau masak, jadi saya beli wortel.
She wants to cook, so I bought carrots.

2- bagaimanapun – however

Bagaimanapun, saya tidak akan lupa.
In any case, I won’t forget.

3- akan tetapi – however

Anda sudah masuk ke rumah, akan tetapi, dia mau Anda pergi.
You’ve already entered the house, however, he wants you to leave.

4- kalau-kalau – in case of

Pakai jas hujan dalam kasus hujan.
Wear a poncho in case of rain.

5- karena – because

Aku mencintaimu karena kamu cantik.
I love you because you’re beautiful.

6- sehingga – to the point that

Mohon untuk membersihkan sehingga bersih.
Please clean this until it’s sparkling.

7- untuk – in order to

Saya menggunakan pisau untuk memotong.
I use a knife in order to cut.

8- umumnya – generally

Anak-anak umumnya tidak punya pekerjaan.
Children generally don’t have jobs.

4. How Often And When?

Woman Looking at Watch

Adverbs of time are some of the most important and by far the most commonly used. Just think of when you’re talking to a delivery driver and you want to say “Are you coming now?” They’ll probably answer “Sorry, I’ll be there soon!”

1- sekarang – now

Saya mau pergi sekarang.
I want to leave now.

2- nanti – later

Jangan melakukannya nanti.
Don’t do it later.

3- dulu – before

Aku duduk dulu.
I’ll sit down first.

4- belum – not yet

Kita belum berkenalan.
We don’t know each other yet.

5- baru – recently

Saya baru datang di Amerika.
I just recently arrived in America.

6- jarang – rarely

Dia jarang makan yang pedas.
He rarely eats spicy things.

7- sering – often

Kamu sering lupa namaku.
You often forget my name.

8- sebentar – a moment

Aku tidur sebentar.
I’ll sleep for a moment.

9- biasanya – usually

Joko biasanya datang jam 11.
Joko usually comes at 11.

10- tidak pernah – never before

Kamu tidak pernah ke Solo?
You’ve never before been to Solo?

11- satu kali  – once

Hanya ke sana satu kali.
Only been there one time.

12- dua kali – twice

Aku sudah bilang dua kali.
I’ve already said it twice.

13- lagi – again

Aku tidak akan bilang lagi.
I’m not going to say it again.

14- sekali seminggu – once a week

Saya main tenis sekali seminggu.
I play tennis once a week.

15- constantly – terus-menerus

Istrinya terus-menerus belajar bahasa Spanyol.
My wife constantly studies Spanish.

16- kadangkala – sometimes

Monyet kadangkala masuk ke rumahku.
Monkeys sometimes come into my house.

17- kadang-kadang – occasionally

Aku kadang-kadang lupa kata-katanya dalam bahasa Inggris.
I occasionally forget the English words.

18- angin-anginan – inconsistently

Mengapa kamu membuat peraturan angin-anginan?
Why are you inconsistently making rules?

19- silam – ago

Itu sudah beberapa tahun silam.
That was several years ago.

20- tadi pagi – this morning

Tadi pagi ada kecelakaan di dekat stasiun kereta.
This morning there was an accident near the railway station.

21- tadi siang – this afternoon

Webinar itu sudah selesai tadi siang.
The webinar was over this afternoon.

22- kemarin – yesterday

Dia dibawa ke rumah sakit kemarin.
He was hospitalized yesterday.

23- besok – tomorrow

Kita besok akan memerlukan mobil.
We will be needing a car tomorrow.

24- hari ini – today

Hari ini kita jalan kaki saja.
Let’s just walk today.

25- … depan – next …

Tahun depan saya tidak akan tinggal di sini lagi.
Next year I will not be living here anymore.

5. Showing Tense

Indonesian doesn’t mark its verbs for tense. Instead, it uses adverbs placed in front of the verb to give a sense of time.

1- sudah – already

Kamu sudah tinggal di Jakarta?
You already live in Jakarta?

2- tadi – before now, some time in near past

Saya tadi lupa mau memberikan ini.
(I forgot) I was going to give you this.

3- akan – will, going to

Aku akan menikmati kue itu.
I’m going to enjoy this cake.

4- telah – already 

Pertunjukkan itu telah berlangsung 5 menit yang lalu.
The show started 5 minutes ago.

5- sedang – in progress

Mereka sedang membaca buku.
They’re reading books.

6- masih – still

Dia masih mencintainya.
She still loves him.

7- baru saja – just now

Dia baru saja pergi.
He left just now.

6. A Lot Or A Little?

Lots and Lots of Penguins

These are known as “intensifiers,” and they’re good companions to the ones in the “numbers and amounts” section from earlier.

1- sangat – very

Kelasnya sangat membosankan.
The class is very boring.

2- amat – very

Kelasnya membosankan amat.
The class is very boring.

3- banget – very 

Makanan Korea enak banget!
Korean food is so tasty!

4- benar-benar – truly, really

Saya benar-benar tidak mau mendorongmu.
I really don’t want to push you.

5- agak – rather

Soal matematika itu agak sulit.
That math problem is rather difficult.

6- lumayan – relatively

Mebel di sini lumayan murah.
Furniture here is relatively cheap.

7- kira-kira – roughly

Kira-kira dua ratus orang datang.
Roughly two hundred people arrived.

8- sekitar – approximately

Sekitar 34% orang Indonesia merokok.
Approximately 34% of Indonesians smoke.

7. Like This or Like That?

Here’s a secret: these five words make up a huge proportion of informal Indonesian. If you get the chance to watch Indonesians chat, try to count off all the times they say these phrases. The cultural component is huge, though, so you can’t just go in saying these words at random.

1- begini – like this

Kalau begini, harus hati-hati.
If the situation is like this, you have to be careful.

2- seperti ini – in this way

Potong rambut seperti ini.
Cut hair in this way.

3- begitu – like that

Jadi, begitu sih.
Well, it’s about like that.

4- seperti itu – in that way

Jangan lari seperti itu.
Don’t run in that way.

5- memang – indeed

Ini memang yang paling penting.
This is indeed what is most important.

8. Where Did You Put it?

Man Carrying Boxes into House

Locational adverbs are often overlooked but are of course extremely helpful whenever describing directions or distances. These adverbs are usually used with prepositions di, ke, and dari

1- di sini – here

Ada apa di sini?
What’s here?

2- di sana – there

Letakkan di sana.
Put it there.

3- ke luar negeri – abroad

Dia akan pergi ke luar negeri tahun depan.
She’s going to go abroad next year.

4- di luar negeri – abroad

Dia sedang belajar di luar negeri.
She is studying abroad.

5- di dekat sini – nearby

Apakah ada hotel bintang tiga di dekat sini?
Are there three star hotels nearby?

6- di mana-mana – everywhere

Di mana-mana ada orang yang mau dapat uang.
There are people everywhere who want to get money.

9. How Likely Is It?

Indonesians are hesitant to give direct answers when they’re even a little bit unsure. Get some practice with these!

1- Sebenarnya – actually

Sebenarnya, aku sudah lulus.
Actually, I already graduated.

2- mungkin – maybe

Mungkin kamu bisa belajar di UNY.
Maybe you can study at UNY.

3- barangkali – possibly

Barangkali ada sesuatu di dalam.
There might be something inside.

4- mungkin – probably

Ini mungkin narkoba.
These are probably drugs.

5- semoga – hopefully

Semoga kami bisa menjadi teman.
Hopefully we can become friends.

6- jangan-jangan – could it be

Jangan-jangan dia terjebak di kemacetan.
Could it be that she is stuck in a traffic jam?

7- mesti – definitely

Ini mesti milik Ibu.
This must belong to you.

8- mudah-mudahan – hopefully

Mudah-mudahan dia bisa datang.
Hopefully she can make it.

9- boleh – may

Kalau sudah mandi, kamu boleh menonton TV.
If you have already taken a shower, you can watch the TV. 

10- bukan – not (followed by nouns and other adverbs)

Kamu bukan anak-anak lagi.
You’re not a child anymore.

11- tidak – not (followed by verbs and adjectives)

Di luar tidak hujan.
It is not raining outside.

12- jangan – don’t (expressing disapproval)

Jangan duduk di lantai.
Don’t sit on the floor.

10. Conclusion

Nice job! These words will no doubt serve you well.

The absolute best way for you to review these adverbs is to wait a day or so and read through the list and example sentences again, out loud if you can. That’ll really lock the words in your memory.

For more fantastic lessons, sign up today with IndonesianPod101.com and check out more grammar and vocabulary resources right from your computer or phone! There’s never been a better or easier way to learn Indonesian.

And in the meantime, if you have any questions about Indonesian adverbs, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments section. We’re always glad to help you out!

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