Bukan vs. Tidak

Bukan vs. Tidak

For a lot of learners of Indonesian, TIDAK is almost always introduced as the translation for NO/NOT. This is not wrong but it is not fully correct either. There are actually two different words for NO/NOT. This feature is unique not only for Indonesian (Malay) but also for other languages in the archipelago (including in the Philippines).


I believe this word is the less familiar word of the two words we’re discussing here. However, I put this first because it only has one function, thus easier to explain.

Saya bukan guru.(I’m not a teacher.)

Dia bukan teman saya. (He’s not my friend.)

Emily Blunt bukan orang Indonesia. (Emily Blunt is not Indonesian.)

“Bukan” is followed by NOUNS.


Tidak is basically used to negate others (everything besides Nouns).

Buku itu tidak bagus untuk anak-anak. (The book is not good for Children.) – followed by an adjective

Mereka tidak suka makan di rumah makan ini. (They do not like eating in this restaurant.) – followed by a verb

Dia tidak di rumah. (He is not at home.) – followed by a preposition (location)

Tidak or Bukan?

A friend of a friend once asked me, which one is correct, “Saya bukan dari Indonesia” or “Saya tidak dari Indonesia”? The reason for this is that sometimes we hear native Indonesians say this. I told her that both are correct, with further explanation:

Saya tidak dari Indonesia = Saya tidak datang dari Indonesia.

Saya bukan dari Indonesia = Saya bukan orang dari Indonesia.

As a Response

The consequence of having two different negating words is that when we respond to a yes-no question, we have to consider using the correct word.

A: Kemarin Anda pergi ke Solo? (Did you go to Solo yesterday?)

B: Tidak. Kemarin saya tidak pergi ke Solo.


A: Ini rumah Anda? (Is this your house?)

B: Bukan. Ini bukan rumah saya.

Why Indonesian is Malay and Not Javanese?

Why Indonesian is Malay and not Javanese-

You just started studying Indonesian, and one day you go to Malaysia. You notice that a lot of words are familiar to you. You know from sources you read that Indonesian and Malaysian are basically one language. Why is that so?

Since a long time ago, Malay language that was spoken in northeast Sumatera has been used in Indonesian archipelago for hundreds of years. As lingua franca, it is mainly used as the language of trade even by some of the eastern part of now Indonesia (of which the native languages are of Western Papuan Family).

During colonialization, Malay was significantly used as a trading and political language. The Dutch were reluctant to promote the use of their language, and so Malay was popular among the commoners while Dutch is used by the elite, in contrast to other colonialists (the French, Portuguese, and even the British). This was probably done because the Dutch did not want the Indonesians to see themselves as equals to them.

Despite the Youth Congress in 1928 which agreed on the use of Indonesian language as the unification language, the Dutch language was still dominant in a lot of formal aspects. However, in 1938 Indonesian was used in the people’s council (Volksraad) much to the Dutch’s chagrin. By the time the Dutch realized that the use of Indonesian language is a threat to their interest, it was too late.

Now, the question here is why didn’t Indonesian founding fathers choose Javanese? Javanese as an option really made sense. First, Javanese kingdoms were powerful and dominant. Second, It was (and still is) the language with the most number of first speakers in the whole archipelago. Third, a lot of the founding fathers are Javanese, including the first president (whose father was a Javanese aristocrat).

The reason is very simple. Javanese is not a simple language. It’s very impractical. When you learn Javanese you have to learn three different styles; Krama inggil, krama madya, and ngoko. If you think it’s easy, think again! Those styles are basically different languages not because of verb inflections (changes in the verbs to signify different functions); they have different sets of vocabulary. For every one thing (or idea), you have to remember three different words! Not only that, you also have to know where and when you should use those languages.

Have I mentioned that even though you are using krama inggil (the most polite and formal style), you have to be able to choose when to lower yourself or honor someone else. There are different words for that also. In fact, what’s confusing is that you can answer using a krama inggil verb to show your superiority by using honorific verbs. Confusing? I know.

Now you know why Malay is more preferred and practical and why it was chosen as Indonesian.

“I” in Indonesian

I In Indonesian

In the previous posts, I mentioned the intricacy of “you” in Indonesian (here), as well as the two Indonesian words for “we” (here). After talking (writing :p) about these pronouns, I’m going to talk about “I” in Indonesian. Is it going to be as intricate as “you” or “we”?

Saya and Aku

Unfortunately, yes. Even though translating or using “I” in Indonesian is not as difficult as it is with you, this is still important to know that there is definitely more than one word for “I” in Indonesian.

“I” is commonly translated as saya and aku. Saya is a bit formal. I say a bit because you can actually use this word in many situations, not only in formal ones, unlike Anda, which sounds very formal; however, this can indeed sound quite distant when a person uses it with his family members. Aku on the other hand sounds less formal. Some Indonesians avoid using this with their family members due to it being very direct, especially when it is used to talk to older people. They have other alternatives.

Other Indonesian words for I

In Jakarta, many young people use the indonesianized Hokkien word “gue” (or “gua”). In the Moluccas (especially in Ambon) they use their own Ambonese Malay dialect word “beta”. In West Sumatera Province, they have the Minang word “awak”. Other areas have their own version of I and, as you might guess, many ethnic groups will likely not use these words exclusively without conversing wholly in the local languages.

Despite these words, some Indonesians also use salutations to address themselves. Look at this example:

Mother : “Ibu mau pergi ke pasar. Kamu mau ikut?”

Anak : “Iya, bu. Ibu mau beli apa?”

In this example, the word “ibu” is used by the mother to address herself and the child use it too to address her mother. The same thing happen with other salutation words, like bapak, mas, mbak, kakak, etc.

As it is with Indonesian “you”, some people also address themselves by using their names. Don’t be surprised when you find an Indonesian addressing herself using her name; she’s not talking about another person with the same name!


Richard Ariefiandy

Room : Kamar and Ruang


Hi, readers and Indonesian learners alike! Today we’re going to be talking about Indonesian word for room… or words?

In Indonesian, the word room is translated as both kamar and ruang but we will mostly see room translated as kamar, and this is not without reason. However, we don’t say meeting room as kamar rapat.


This word originates from the Dutch word kammer. This word can be translated as chamber or room. We know that chamber of commerce in Indonesian is kamar dagang, and to show consistency of this explanation, I would like to point out that the Indonesian translation for Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets is kamar rahasia. This word is also used for rooms with more sense of privacy, such as bedroom and bathroom; kamar tidur and kamar mandi, respectively.


Ruang actually means space. So, time and space means ruang dan waktu and retrobulbar space is ruang retrobulbar (a medical term). However, ruang is also used as room. For rooms without a sense of privacy, such as waiting room or meeting room, we use ruang; ruang tunggu and ruang rapat, respectively.

Kamar or ruang?

What is a guest room in Indonesian? Interestingly, it can mean both kamar tamu and ruang tamu. It is ruang tamu if it refers to a room (space) in a common Indonesian house where you entertain your guests and talk with them. For some reason, you don’t take them to the living room unless they are close to you personally. It can also mean kamar tamu if it refers to a specific room where your guest is staying; a bedroom you might say, but for a guest.

Language Abandonment : An Issue in Indonesian context

Language Abandonment

Language death happens when the last speaker of the language dies. Its process is usually gradual, and most commonly occurs when the native speakers of a language start using a second language (usually imposed by the majority or voluntarily done due to political or economic reasons) until they stop using their first language.

As a country with very diverse ethnicities, Indonesia has more than 700 local languages. With people speaking different languages that mostly are not mutually intelligible, Indonesia chose Malay language, dubbed as Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language), as the language of unity. The choice was made not because Malay language was spoken by the majority, nor was it the language of the forefathers; in fact, Javanese was and is the largest ethnic group in Indonesian and most of the forefathers are Javanese. Malay was chosen because it was the lingua franca of the whole archipelago and considered to be practical. It was and still is more practical than Javanese. Now, more and more people speak Indonesian as its first language.

As a national language, Indonesian is used in everyday life, in government offices, in education, and interacting with people, especially from other ethnic groups. Places with economic or educational significance are usually where people from different ethnicities gather. In these places, Indonesian serves as a uniting element.

With Indonesian used widely, the existence of other languages are threatened, to some extent. In 2009, 16 languages died in the course of two years (from 742 languages in 2007 to 726). Because people think that learning and getting used to Bahasa Indonesia will contribute to a better life, better accessibility, they stop using their local languages; they assimilate. Furthermore, some people avoid using their local languages, because they’re afraid that other people might disparage them. This shift in using Indonesian has taken its toll on the largest local language in Indonesian, i.e. Javanese. Many young Javanese people now forget specific vocabulary, e.g. those related to animals’ offspring, flowers, specific actions, certain sounds (onomatopoeia), etc.

Let’s think of a hypothetical condition where Indonesian is not used; it doesn’t exist. It does make sense, since Indonesian language doesn’t really have a long history compared to some other local languages. A local language with the largest groups of speakers would be Javanese. Due to its historical significance, its enormous number of speakers, the distribution of the Javanese people all over Indonesia (not to mention those who live in Suriname), the importance of Java Island in education, economy, and politics, Javanese language will most likely take over the role of Indonesian language as the language of power and unity.

Besides Indonesian language as its national language and Javanese as the language with most speakers in Indonesia, Indonesia also has at least twenty local languages that are spoken by more than one million people. Even without the existence of Indonesian language, these languages can serve as lingua franca on smaller levels, which then contribute to language abandonment of other minority languages.

The Two Indonesian “we”

The Two Indonesian WeFor some people, this topic is a very basic topic covered in their first few meetings of Indonesian lessons, but for some, this is something they haven’t thought before. For those who have learned this, this article is a good reminder of how unique Indonesian “we” is, so keep reading this. Perhaps you’ll find something new. 😉

When a person says “we will go there tomorrow”, you can’t really tell whether you’re in that “we”, and we have to ask for clarification. Is the person talking about himself and other people or with you included? In Indonesian, there are two specific ‘we’s. Let’s take a look at both words.


When we say KITA, we include the person we talking to; KITA includes ‘you’. That’s why KITA is also known as we-inclusive. When someone says to you “kita akan pergi ke sana besok”, you know exactly that you are included. When you talk to a person “kita sudah tahu berita itu”, the person you’re talking to knows that he/she knows the news as well.


KAMI is the exclusive we, meaning ‘we’ that excludes the person you’re talking to. Using the same English example, when a person says “kami akan pergi ke sana besok”, you know that you won’t go there with the person saying this to you. That person will go with some other people. The same goes when you say this to a person; you don’t include the person you’re talking to.

Kami vs. Kita

For practicality reason, a lot of Indonesians nowadays prefer to use KITA only as ‘we’ (first person plural); KITA is more popular in usage and KAMI is losing its place as KITA’s counterpart. Whenever I use KAMI in a sentence (written or spoken), some of my friends say that I’m being very formal. In fact, I read an Indonesian language article on the internet saying that KAMI is the formal form of KITA!

Of course, on the bright side, English speakers no longer have to think which one to say whenever they want to say ‘we’; however, KITA and KAMI are two of many words that render Indonesian unique. If we lose KAMI, we’re losing what makes Indonesian pronouns special.

Thanks for reading, and tell me what you think in the comment section below.

Richard Ariefiandy

(Indonesian) Sentences Without A Subject

Sentences Without A SubjectHello fellow readers! The post today will discuss Indonesian sentences that often occur without subjects. Have you ever faced difficulty understanding what a native Indonesian says because they often omit the subject when talking? Or perhaps you have been in Indonesia for quite a while that you’re accustomed to how they talk. Nonetheless, I hope this post helps you figure out why this happens and in what situations you may find this, and if you’re a student of Indonesian and have been studying Indonesian, you can share your experience here.

English sentences

In English, whether you realize it or not, sentence construction is always Subject + Verb. Even if you don’t really want to talk about an action, you still put TO BE as the substitute of the verb. “You are beautiful” doesn’t contain any action, and you can’t say “you beautiful”, since beautiful is not a verb, so you need to put are.

Indonesian sentences don’t require a TO BE

In Indonesian, sentences usually contain a subject and a verb. This is true if we’re talking about an activity. Let’s say we want to say “I took a cab last night”, which is “tadi malam saya naik taksi” in Indonesian, and the verb is naik. But if we want to describe a condition, let’s say “this place was cold”, it translates into “tempat ini dingin”. As you can see, was is not translated and not needed.

Subject is understood

Besides not translating (not needing) a TO BE, often there is no subject in an Indonesian sentence. This happens mostly because the subject is understood. For example, you talk to a person and say “mau makan sekarang?”, you will say that “do you want to eat now?” in English. Indonesians refrain from saying Anda (you) because it’s understood in the context. Sometimes people don’t really say you to avoid being too direct.

Impersonal it

Indonesian sentences don’t use subject because the subject itself doesn’t exist. In “It’s impossible to go out tonight. It’s too cold.”, what does the word it refer to? This impersonal it exists because a sentence must contain a subject. In Indonesian, this it doesn’t translate. In Indonesian, the sentence above is translated as “Tidak mungkin untuk pergi ke luar malam ini. Terlalu dingin.

Any comments and questions? Wanna give some more examples from what you encountered in real life? Please write in the comment section below, or send an email to richard.ariefiandy@gmail.com.


Richard Ariefiandy