Indonesia language grammar


The following are phonemes of modern Indonesian.
Vowels Front Central Back
Close iː uː
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid (ɛ) (ɔ)
Open a

Indonesian also has the diphthongs /ai/, /au/, and /oi/. In closed syllables, such as air (water), however, the two vowels are not pronounced as a diphthong.
Consonants Labial Apical Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
ɲ ŋ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ ʔ
Affricate ʧ ʤ
Fricative (f) s (z) (ʃ) (x) h
Liquid l r
Approximant w j

Note: The vowels between parentheses are allophones while the consonants in parentheses are loan phonemes and as such only occur in loanwords.
[edit] Learning pronunciation

Here are a few useful tips for the English speaking learner:

* /k/, /p/, and /t/ are unaspirated like in Romance languages or in Finnish, i.e. they are not followed by a noticeable puff of air as they often are in English words.
* /t/ and /d/ are dental, rather than alveolar as in English.
* When /k/ is at the end of a syllable it becomes a glottal stop, which sounds like it is cut off sharply e.g. baik, bapak. This is similar to a number of English dialects where final /t/ is glottalized ("got", "what"). Only a few Indonesian words have this sound in the middle, e.g. bakso (meatballs), and it may be represented by an apostrophe in Arabic derived words such as Al Qur'an.
* The letter 'c' in a word is never pronounced as a 'k' or 's' e.g. kucing (meaning cat) is pronounced [ˈkuːtʃiːŋ].
* Stress is placed on the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable of each base word. But if this syllable contains a schwa then the accent moves to the last syllable.

For more, and to listen to examples, see SEASite Guide to Pronunciation of Indonesian

Compound words

In Indonesian, new words can be formed by conjoining two or more base words. Compound words, when they exist freely in a sentence, are often written separately. Compound words are only attached to each other when they are bound by a confix or when they are already considered as stable words.

For example, the word rumah which means house and makan which means eat, are compounded to form a new word rumah makan (restaurant). Similarly, ambil alih (take over) is formed using the root words ambil (take) and alih (shift), but will link together when a circumfix is attached to it, i.e. pengambilalihan (takeover). Certain stable words, such as kakitangan (personnel), and kerjasama (co-oporation; corporation), are spelled as one word even though the words they consist of can also exist freely in sentences.

Initial Consonant Morphing

Indonesian makes use of initial consonant morphing when using the prefixes me- and pe-. This means that according to the initial sound of the base word, the sounds used in the prefix will differ; this is based on the place of articulation.

The sound following the me- or pe- suffix is usually a nasal(m, n, ny, ng) or liquid(l, r) sound. Which sound is used depends on the point of articulation. E.g. the initial sound of beli, /b/, is a bi-labial sound (pronounced using both the lips), so the nasal bi-labial sound, /m/ is placed before the base word, creating membeli.

The initial consonant is dropped if it is unvoiced(/p/, /t/, /s/, /k/), e.g. menulis/tulis, memilih/pilih.

Grammatical gender

Generally Indonesian does not make use of grammatical gender, and there are only select words that use natural gender. For instance, the same word is used for he and she (dia/ia) or for his and her (dia/ia/-nya). No real distinction is made between "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" (except in the more colloquial terms cewek (girl, girlfriend) and cowok (guy, boyfriend). A majority of Indonesian words that refer to people generally have a form that does not distinguish between the sexes. However, unlike English, distinction is made between older or younger (a characteristic quite common to many Asian languages). For example, adik refers to a younger sibling of either gender and kakak refers to an older sibling, again, either male or female. In order to specify the natural gender of a noun, an adjective must be added. Thus, adik laki-laki corresponds to "younger brother" but really means "younger male sibling".

There are some words that are gendered, for instance putri means "daughter", and putra means "son" and also pramugara means "air steward" (male flight attendant) and pramugari meaning "air stewardess" (female flight attendant). Another example would be olahragawan, which equates to "sportsman", and olahragawati, meaning sportswoman. Often, words like these (or certain suffixes such as "-a" and "-i" or "-wan" and "wati") are absorbed from other languages (in these cases, from Sanskrit through the Old Javanese language). In some regions of Indonesia such as Sumatera and Jakarta, abang (a gender-specific term meaning "older brother") is commonly used as a form of address for older siblings/ males, whilst kakak (a non-gender specific term (meaning "older sibling") is often used to mean "older sister". Similarly, more direct influences from dialects such as Javanese and Chinese languages have also seen further use of other gendered words in Indonesian. For example: Mas (Jav. = older brother), M'bak (Jav. = older sister), Koko (older brother) and Cici (older sister).

Measure words

Another distinguishing feature of Indonesian language is its use of measure words. In this way, it is similar to many other languages of Asia, including Thai, Lao, Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Bengali.

Examples of these measure words are: ekor (used for animals), buah (generally used for non-living things), orang (used for people), lembar (used for paper), helai (used for long, thin and generally flat things), biji (used for tiny, round things), batang (used for long, stick-like objects), etc. However, these measure words may not always be used in informal conversation.
Indonesian Literal English translation Normal English translation
Tiga ekor sapi Three tails (of) cow Three cows
Sepuluh orang tentara Ten people soldiers Ten soldiers
Lima lembar/ helai/ carik kertas Five sheets/pieces of paper Five sheets/pieces of paper
Sebelas buah apel Eleven fruits (of) apple Eleven apples

* Importantly, when a measure word is being used in conjunction with only one object, the numeral prefix se- is used in front of the measure word, not satu. Therefore a banana would be translated as (se + MW + object) = sebuah pisang.


There are three major forms of negation used in the Indonesian language, namely tidak, bukan and belum.

* Tidak (sometimes shortened to tak) is used for the negation of a verb and adjective.

For example: "saya tidak tahu" = I do not know OR "Ibu saya tidak senang" = My mother is not happy

* Bukan is used in the negation of a noun.

For example: "Itu bukan anjing saya" = That is not my dog

* Belum is primarily used to negate a sentence or phrase with the sense that something has not yet been accomplished or experienced. In this sense, belum can also be used as a negative response to a question.

For example: "Anda sudah pernah ke Indonesia (belum)? "Belum, saya masih belum pernah pergi ke Indonesia" = Have you ever been to Indonesia before, (or not)? No, I have not yet been to Indonesia OR "Orang itu belum terbiasa tinggal di Indonesia" = That person is not (yet) used to living in Indonesia.

NB: Another kind of negation involves the word jangan, which equates to the English equivalent of "don't" or "do not". Jangan is used for negating imperatives or advising against certain actions. For example, "Jangan tinggalkan saya di sini!" = 'Don't leave me here!'


Plurals are expressed by means of reduplication, but only when the plural is not implied in the context. Thus "person" is orang, and "people" is orang-orang, but "a thousand people" is seribu orang, as the use of a numeral (i.e. seribu) renders it unnecessary to mark the plural form.

For foreigners learning Indonesian, the concept of grammatical reduplication is not as easy to grasp as it may seem. Besides expressing plurals, reduplication can also be used to create new words that differ in meaning. For instance, hati means "heart" or "liver" (depending on context) whereas hati-hati means "to be careful" and is often used as a verb. As stated above, orang means "person" while orang-orang means "people", but orang-orangan means "scarecrow". Also, not all reduplicated words indicate plural forms of a word with many words naturally expressed in reduplicated form. Examples of these include, biri-biri (sheep), kupu-kupu (butterfly) which can imply both a singular or plural meaning, depending on the context or numeral used.

By contrast, there are also some types of plural words that are expressed by reduplication of a similar sounding (but essentially different) word. In these cases the general sound of a word/phrase is repeated, but the initial letter of the repeated word is changed. A common example of this is sayur-mayur (not sayur-sayur) meaning "vegetables" (plural). Another type of reduplication can be formed through the use of certain affixes (e.g. pe- + -an). For instance, pepohonan ([various kinds of] trees, from the word pohon [tree]), perumahan (houses/ housing, from the word rumah [house]) or pegunungan (mountains, mountain range, from the word gunung [mountain]), and so on.

Another useful word to remember when pluralizing in Indonesian is beberapa, which means "some." For example one may use beberapa pegunungan to describe a series of mountain ranges, and beberapa kupu-kupu to describe (plural) butterflies.


There are two forms of "we", kami or kita, depending on whether the speaker includes the person being talked to. Kami (exclusive) is used when the person or people being spoken to are not included, while kita (inclusive) includes the opposite party. Their usage is increasingly confused in colloquial Indonesian. There are two major forms of "I", which are saya and aku. Despite having the same meaning, saya is definitely the more formal form, whereas Aku is used often used with family, friends and between lovers. There are three common forms of "you", which are kamu, Anda and kalian. Anda is the more polite form of "you" and is used in conversations with someone you barely know, advertising, business situations or with someone whom you wish to respect. Kalian is the common plural form of "you" and is often said to be slightly informal.

NB: Because of the overall structure of Indonesian society and influences from regional dialects, many more different pronouns exist in Indonesian. Some of these 'additional pronouns' may show utmost politeness and respect (eg. saudara/saudari = you (male/female) or Anda sekalian = you (polite, plural form)), may be used only in the most informal of situations (eg. gua/ lu = me/ you - see Indonesian slang), or may even possess somewhat romantic or poetic nuances(eg. daku/dikau = me/you).

Common Indonesian Pronouns
Type Indonesian English
First Person Saya (standard, polite), Aku (informal, familiar), Gua (informal, slang) I, me
Kami (excl.), Kita (incl.) We, us
Second Person Anda (polite, formal), Saudara/Saudari (polite, formal) You
Kamu (familiar, informal), (Eng)kau (familiar, informal), Lu (informal, slang) You
Kalian (plural, informal), Anda sekalian (plural, formal), Saudara(i)-saudara(i) (polite) You
Third Person Ia, Dia He, she, it
Beliau (high respect) He, She
Mereka They

Possessive pronouns
Type of possessive pronouns Possessive pronouns Example of root word Example of derived word(s)
First person Saya, Aku (I) -ku meja (table) mejaku (my table)
Kami (we, referring to 1st and 3rd person), kita (we, referring to 1st and 2nd person) ... (milik) kami/kita kursi (chair) kursi (milik) kami, kursi (milik) kita (our chair)
Second person Kamu (you) -mu meja (table) mejamu (your table)
Anda, Saudara (you(polite)) ... (milik) Anda/Saudara kursi (chair) kursi (milik) Anda/Saudara (your chair)
Kalian (you(plural)) ... (milik) kalian kursi (chair) kursi (milik) kalian (your chair)
Third person Dia, Ia (he, she, it) -nya meja (table) mejanya (his, her, its table)
Beliau (he, she, it (polite)) ... (milik) Beliau meja (table) meja (milik) Beliau (his, her, its table)
Mereka (they)

Demonstrative pronouns

There are two kinds of demonstrative pronouns in the Indonesian language. Ini (this, these) is used for a noun which is generally near to the speaker. Itu (that, those) is used for a noun which is generally far from the speaker. There is no difference between singular form and the plural form. However, plural can be indicated through duplication of a noun followed by a demonstrative pronoun. Also, the word yang is often placed before demonstrative pronouns to give emphasis and a sense of certainty, particularly when making references or enquiries about something/ someone.

Various Uses
Demonst. Pronoun Simple Use English Meaning
Ini Buku ini This book
Itu Kucing itu That cat
Demonst. Pronoun Plural Form (via Noun duplication) English Meaning
Ini Buku-buku ini These books
Itu Kucing-kucing itu Those cats
Demonst. Pronoun + yang Example Sentence English Meaning
Yang ini Q: Anda mau membeli buku yang mana?

A: Saya mau beli yang ini
Q: Which book do you wish to purchase?

A: I would like this one (this book)
Yang itu Q: Kucing mana yang makan tikusmu?

A: Yang itu!
Q: Which cat ate your mouse?

A: That one (that cat)!


Verbs are not inflected for person or number, and they are not marked for tense; tense is instead denoted by time adverbs (such as "yesterday") or by other tense indicators (sometimes referred to as aspect particles), such as belum (not yet) or sudah (already). On the other hand, there is a complex system of verb affixes to render nuances of meaning and denote active-passive voices. Such affixes include prefixes, infixes, suffixes, and their combinations; all of which are often ignored in informal conversations


Although the basic word order of Indonesian is Subject Verb Object (SVO), as mentioned above, it is possible to make frequent use of passive voice or to scramble word order, thus adding emphasis on a certain sentence particle. The particle being emphasised is usually placed at the beginning of the sentence. In spoken Indonesian, the aspect of the sentence being emphasised is usually followed by a short pause before continuing on with the remainder of the sentence.

Some examples include:

* Saya pergi ke pasar kemarin "I went to the market yesterday" — neutral, or with emphasis on the subject.
* Kemarin saya pergi ke pasar "Yesterday I went to the market" — emphasis on yesterday.
* Ke pasar saya pergi, kemarin "To the market I went yesterday" — emphasis on where I went yesterday.
* Pergi ke pasar, saya, kemarin "To the market went I yesterday" — emphasis on the process of going to the market.

NB: Some of the above examples (namely the latter two) are more likely to be encountered in spoken Indonesian rather than written forms of the language.
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