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.


Expressing Future Tense In Indonesian

Future Tense in Indonesian

Hallo Leute! I have been learning German for the past few days, but don’t worry, we’re not going to talk about German. This post will discuss none other than Indonesian. I have talked about how to express Progressive Tense in Indonesian, and now I am going to talk about how to express Future Tense in Indonesian.

As you know, Indonesians do not express tenses in the form of verb inflection. Indonesian use words to describe the context of the situation instead of changing the verbs. So, how does future tense is expressed in Indonesian then?

Time Markers

Words used to point a certain time in the future (as well as in the past) help set the context of when the event occurs. ‘Kemarin’ (yesterday), ‘besok’ (tomorrow), ‘hari ini’ (today, lit. this day), ‘nanti’ (later today), ‘tadi’ (earlier today), are names of specific points in time. Other than those, we also use: ‘bulan lalu‘ (last month), ‘tahun depan‘ (next year), ‘lima hari yang lalu‘ (five days ago), ‘tujuh minggu lagi‘ (in seven weeks), ‘ten years later‘ (sepuluh tahun kemudian).

Kami berangkat ke Papua enam minggu lagi. (We will leave for Papua in six weeks.)


This word is the equivalent word of ‘will’. Despite being the counterpart of Indonesian ‘will’, this word is also used to express any kinds of future tense which includes “to be going to” and Present Progressive Tense for Future Arrangements.

A: When are you teaching today? (Jam berapa kamu akan mengajar?)

B: Ah, I’m teaching at three. What about you? (Aku akan mengajar jam 3. Kalau kamu?)

Another example:

We are going to visit him soon. (Kami akan segera mengunjungi dia.)

(Un)fortunately, we can often drop ‘akan’, especially  when the context is clear or we use time markers.


Another (un)fortunate phenomenon in Indonesian language is that ‘mau’ (want) can be used to express future tense. The logic is, when you are about to do something or will do something, you basically want to do it. This is colloquial Indonesian, and can sometimes creates confusion especially with those who haven’t been exposed to ‘street’ or colloquial Indonesian.

I had a student of Indonesian who was taken aback by a question asked by a staff in our school, ‘mau ke mana, pak?’ (lit. where do you want to go, sir?). The student was surprised because he thought the staff was quite nosy. ‘Why does she want to know where I want to go?’ he said. The staff was actually asking him where he was going to go.


This word basically means ‘something that will become’ or ‘candidate’ (bakal suami, ‘future husband’).

Kalau kamu bohong, aku tidak bakal percaya kamu lagi. (If you lie, I will not believe you anymore.)

When A Stranger Asks “Dari Mana?”

When A Stranger Asks

For a lot of foreigners the question “dari mana?” is considered a personal question. Many of them who come to Indonesia are taken aback when a stranger (Indonesian) asks this question casually on the street. I know this because my students were. If it’s your first time coming to Indonesia, it is easy to feel intimidated. “What does this person want to know where I’m from?” You might think.

If you are startled, it’s a normal reaction. Actually, the issue is more about what you should respond correctly. Students of Indonesian should see that behind this seemingly invasive approach, those people basically want to say “hi”. It is a part of the local hospitality. A weird way of saying “hi”, I know.

What most foreigners do not realize is that even though this question is a generic question to ask origin, it has other functions as well.

Imagine a situation where you have an appointment with an Indonesian friend, and he is late. Of course, besides saying “why are you late?” (“Kenapa kamu terlambat?”) you can also say “kamu dari mana?” (it literally means “where are you from?” as in “where were you before you came here that made you come late?”).

In another situation where you are with a friend in a party but she excuses herself to go somewhere (she does not say where). Suddenly you see a famous person in the party, but he quickly goes somewhere else. When your friend returns, you will probably say “where have you been?” that can go with “kamu dari mana?”

In a different situation, imagine you are with your friend, and you excuse yourself to the restroom. When you come back, your friend is not there. When he returns you can say “kamu dari mana?” as in “where were you? Where did you go?”

Okay, enough with imaginations. Those are some examples where you can actually use “dari mana?” in different situations. So when someone, especially a person who knows you personally, asks “dari mana?” immediately think that they ask where you are before you meet him, not where (which country) you originally come from.

Now, let us go back to the stranger on the street.

When a stranger asks you “dari mana?” especially a middle aged woman sweeping the floor or a group of nice cute giggling children, don’t feel intimidated. Believe me, they care less of what you are doing. They do not really want to know. They are trying to say “hi” to you.

Even though “dari mana?” is a form of greeting, answering it with “baik” does not sound correct. In fact, it sounds weird. When a stranger asks “dari mana?” a vague answer like “dari sana” (from there) always works. You can also answer with “dari jalan-jalan” (from walking/strolling), or “dari toko” (from a shop).

If you notice, instead of asking “dari mana?” some people might ask “ke mana?” (where are you going?). This is basically the same as “dari mana”, and you need to answer properly by saying “ke” followed with anywhere you are going to. You do not need to go into details and explain where you are going exactly, and no, they are not going to stalk.

After that, it is always a nice thing to close this short encounter with “mari, pak/bu”, smile, bow a little bit (just a little bit!), and then go. The middle aged woman who is sweeping the floor might answer it the same way with a big smile on her face. Congratulations! You are one step closer to become an Indonesian.

PS: You do not have to do the same to the children. After answering the question, just smile and go.

Constructing Questions in Indonesian

Constructing Questions

Constructing a question in Indonesian is very easy. As one of the easiest languages to learn, Indonesian has S-V-O word order (the same as English), and without verb inflections (verb changes due to the time and the number or gender of the subject). This means you do not need to mind the verbs or whether you need an extra verb (helping verb) for your question.

Yes/No Question

To make a written Y/N question in Indonesian you only have to put a “?” (Question mark) at the end of an affirmative sentence, instead of a full stop.

Kamu sudah pergi ke Jogja. (You have been to Jogja)

Kamu sudah pergi ke Jogja? (Have you been to Jogja?)

Very easy, right? When speaking, you just need to raise the intonation of the last part of the sentence.


This is a question word needed to construct a formal Y/N question. How do you use it? Put it at the beginning of every Y/N question; as simple as that!

Apakah kamu sudah pergi ke Wellington? (Have you been to Wellington?)

Apakah kita akan selesaikan PR malam ini? (Will we finish our homework tonight?)

Apakah dia suka makanan Italia? (Does he like Italian food?)

WH (Information) Question

Even though constructing a question is indeed easy, to make a WH question is a tricky thing. It is not about where you put the verb or subject, but rather where you put the question word. As you know from the explanation above, Indonesian questions are basically affirmative sentences ended with a question mark. Indonesian WH questions require you to put question words right in the position of where the expected answer is supposed to be located. Let me give you an example.



Siapa, berapa, yang mana

These question words should be put where the answer is. Changing the position of the question words will render the question meaningless or may change the meaning at all. Look at these examples:




Apa is usually used to ask objects and is almost always put at the end or after the verb.

Q: Mereka mau makan apa untuk makan siang? (What do they want for lunch?)

A: Mereka mau makan pizza untuk makan siang. (They want pizza for lunch.)

Kapan, (di/ke/dari) mana

These question words can be positioned anywhere you want without worrying that you might change the meaning. Look at the examples.



Kenapa, Bagaimana

Don’t worry. These two always come in the beginning of a question.



Kinship Terminology in Indonesian

Kinship Terminology In Indonesian

What makes kinship terminology in Indonesian different?

From English, of course. Well, suffice to say that Indonesian kinship terminology is heavily based on ‘seniority’ instead of gender, even though gender does affect the terms to some extent. But what makes kinship terminology in Indonesian a little bit more complicated is the influence of local languages. Kinship terminology in Indonesian is colored with local elements.

Our siblings

Let’s start with sibling. The Indonesian word for sibling is saudara. It’s gender neutral. Putting laki-laki (male) or perempuan (female) after saudara will make it into brother or sister, respectively. However, many Indonesians use the word saudara not only for siblings, but also anyone related to them, such as cousins and other relatives. Indonesians usually prefer adik and kakak when referring to siblings; adik for younger siblings and kakak is for older siblings. Once again, putting laki-laki and perempuan after the words makes them more gender specific, and as you can see, Indonesians distinguish (blood) siblings based more on how old they are relative to you instead of their gender.

There are some alternatives of calling kakak (not that many with adik, presumably because Indonesians tend to pay more attention to words they use for older people rather than to the younger ones) in some local languages and many are gender specific. In Javanese, mas and mbak are used for older brother and sister, respectively, while in Sundanese they have aa/akang and teteh. In Minang language, they have uda (older brother) and uni (older sister), while Malay Indonesians have abang and kakak; yes, the same kakak used in Indonesian language is actually older sister in Malay.

Parents and their siblings

If you know Indonesian, you probably know that bapak means father and ibu means mother. Do you know that Indonesians also use other terms? Ayah, papa, abi, babe, are all alternatives for bapak. The word papa is from the influence of Romance languages, abi is Arabic, and babe is Betawi language (influenced by Persian?). Meanwhile bunda, mama, ummi, and emak are alternatives for ibu. Of course different local cultures will use different words.

Parents’ siblings in Indonesian is actually simple. Aunt is bibi (Malay) or tante (Dutch) and Uncle is paman (Malay) or oom (Dutch). They seem to be gender specific, but not age specific, right? Well, that’s true, but don’t forget, some Indonesians use local languages with more specific terms. In Sundanese, your parents’ brother and sister are mamang and bibi, but your parents’ sibling is just uwak. In Javanese, your parents’ older brother is pak de and your parents’ older sister is bu de, while your parents’ younger brother is pak lek and your parents’ younger sister is bu lek.

At least in Indonesian, Javanese, and Sundanese, our parents’ siblings are distinguished based on the gender and (to a certain extent) age relative to the parents. However, in other languages of Indonesia, they also distinguish whether the sibling is from the father’s side or mother’s side.

Kinship terminology for?

Indonesians use kinship terminology not only to call relatives. We extend the use of the terms for people who are not family. You might know from this post and this post that these terms are also used as pronouns.

FYI, ‘Besok’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Tomorrow’


One day, you need help with something and you ask your Indonesian friend. He seems busy at the time but you ask, nonetheless, in Indonesian. He says, “Oke. Saya kerjakan besok, ya.” The next when you meet him, he hasn’t done it. You’re confused and a little bit frustrated.

Lexically speaking [in any Indonesian-English dictionaries you read], “tomorrow” means “besok”, but why when an Indonesian says “besok” it doesn’t always mean “tomorrow”. Why?

From the perspective of an Indonesian (me), Indonesians have a vague concept of time; well, at least with this word. This vagueness can be seen in our so-called “ngaret” or “jam karet”, the habit of coming up late. Young people nowadays make jokes, saying that “otw [on the way] means you’re still in your bed, trying to get up”. One of my students, a German who worked for her social year in Nias Island, told me a story when she was invited to a youth meeting in a church in South Nias. She came at the exact hour she was told to but, much to her surprise, the others showed up two hours later. She was pissed off, but she learned one important lesson; to come up two hours after any appointed time.

For many Indonesians, aside from “tomorrow”, “besok” can mean sometime in the future. It’s a word that, to some extent, can be seen as nonspecific and ambiguous. I’m not trying to discourage you from your learning, but whenever an Indonesian says “besok” to you, don’t hesitate to ask “besok,’besok’ atau besok kapan-kapan?”

PS: This happens with the words “nanti” and “kemarin” as well. “Nanti” can mean “later (on the same day)” or just like besok (some time in the future). “Kemarin”, on the other hand, can mean “yesterday” or “sometime in the past”.

Do you have similar experiences? Share it in the comment section below!

“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