When people learn Indonesian for the first time, they might encounter a simple yet significant fact that Indonesian language is simple because it has no “to be”. Or does it? As a person progresses with his study, he will find that Indonesian does have “to be”. It is not as important as it is in English but it exists, nonetheless.
In English, “to be” is distinguished based on what the subject is (plural/singular). However, Indonesian “to be” is distinguished based on the function. Let’s see the explanations below.
“Saya adalah guru.” (I am a teacher)
Adalah is to be used with nouns. As you see from the example above, adalah is followed by a noun (guru). Adalah can be omitted from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. It is not important. In fact, putting adalah will make a sentence sound a little bit formal. So instead of saying “saya adalah guru”, you can say “saya guru”.
This word can actually be used to define something and thus make this word become pretty much needed, especially when to be in the question is ‘itu’ (see below).
“Mereka ada di Bali.” (They are in Bali)
Ada originally means ‘to exist’. This word is to be used with locations; meaning, it should be followed with preposition di and place/location. Just like adalah, this word is not important. You can always say “mereka di Bali” and it’s perfectly fine. You can use ada to emphasize their existence/position.
Nothing? What does that mean? Well, so far you know the two words representing ‘to be’ in Indonesian and both are not important that we can omit them in spoken or written language. You must be wondering, what’s the difference between those two ‘nothing’ (because they’re unnecessary) with this ‘nothing’? This ‘nothing’ means that you really have no word for it.
“Dia baik sekali.” (She is very nice)
When to be is followed by an adjective (describing word), you don’t translate the ‘to be’. This is not because it’s unnecessary like the previous two words, but because it doesn’t exist at all. As a matter of fact, putting something (adalah/ada) in that kind of sentence would render it wrong. Or is it?
This is interesting because not many people might agree with my opinion that this demonstrative word can actually play a role as a ‘to be’, while they actually say it (and sometimes write it). Itu as a ‘to be’ can be seen in questions with apa (asking for a definition), like:
“Apa itu cinta?” (What is love?)
The question asks for the definition of cinta (love) while the affirmative sentence below gives a simple description of cinta using an adjective or clause. However, please mind that this pattern is often used to give descriptions, and tend to have more poetic/artistic sense.
“Cinta itu buta. Cinta itu indah. Cinta itu sesuatu yang membuat kita melihat dunia sebagai tempat yang lebih baik.” (Love is blind. Love is beautiful. Love is something that makes us see the world as a better place)
This last one is very formal and tend to be used when you are describing something and is usually followed by a phrase or a clause.
“Uang merupakan masalah semua orang.” (Money is everyone’s problem)
“Dia merupakan orang yang dipercaya bisa membawa perusahaannya keluar dari masalah.” (He is someone believed to be able to bring the company out of the problem)