English and Indonesian/Contrastive grammar

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Indefinite and Definite

In Indonesian, there is no usage of articles. For instance, translating a noun with a preceding article in English to Indonesian will render this result:

  • (en) a table → meja
  • (en) the table → meja
  • (en) a boy → lelaki
  • (en) the boy → lelaki
  • (en) a bottle → botol
  • (en) the bottle → botol
  • (en) a cat → kucing
  • (en) the cat → kucing
  • (en) a door → pintu
  • (en) the door → pintu


In English the possession is possessor before possessee. However, in Indonesian, it is possessee before possessor.

  • (ind) Manusia selalu menguna ubat doktor. → People always use the doctor's medicine. :: People always use medicine doctor.
  • (ind) Baju putih terbesar untuk saya. → The white clothes are too big for me. :: Coat white too big for me.
  • (ind) Bapa saya pergi ke sekolah. → My father went to school. :: Father my went to school.
  • (ind) Ibu saya suka makan kacang. → My mother likes eating peanuts. :: Mother my likes eating peanuts.
  • (ind) Kucing saya mahu makan. → My cat wants to eat. :: Cat my wants eat.


In Indonesian, there is a special suffix, "-nya", to reference a particular noun in a conversation. It is an anaphoric reference to a previously defined third person possessor. Furthermore, it's written together with the noun instead of separately like first person is.

  • (ind) John sedih kerana ibunya marah. → John is sad because his mother is angry.
  • (ind) Cikgu memberi Jack kerjarumahnya. → Teacher gave Jack his homework.
  • (ind) Mary ambil bukunya. → Mary took her book.
  • (ind) Jessica terlupa namanya. → Jessica forgot her name.
  • (ind) Priscilla suka begnya. → Priscilla loves her bag.
  • (ind) Kimiunya ulangkaji. → Chemistry is being studied by somebody.
  • (ind) Ibunya marah. → Someone's mother is angry.
  • (ind) Cikgu memberi kerjarumahnya. → Teacher gave somebody homework.

If the noun is first referenced in the conversation or text, or if the subject being referenced is ambiguous, then there is no need for "-nya".

  • (ind) Bapa memberi John ais-krim. → Father gave John ice cream.
  • (ind) Saya bermain bola. → I played ball.
  • (ind) Mary beritahu John tentang kucing baru Jack. → Mary told John about Jack's new dog.
  • (ind) Mereka makan makanan malam. → They ate dinner.
  • (ind) John dan Jack pergi ke perpustakaan di dalam kereta John. → John and Jack went to the library in John's car.

There is also a word, 'tersebut', that is used as a anaphoric reference for previously-mentioned objects, nouns, or ideas, from a longer text or conversation. A good translation of this word to English is "the aforementioned" or "the above".

  • (ind) Memberi saya buku tersebut. → Give me the aforementioned book.
  • (ind) Pencuri tersebut mencuri dompet ibu.The aforementioned thief stole mother's wallet.
  • (ind) Sila mengikuti arahan tersebut. → Please follow the aforementioned instructions.
  • (ind) John membaca cerita tersebut. → John read the above story.
  • (ind) Arash mencuci kereta tersebut. → Arash washed the aforementioned car.


In English, the determiner comes before the noun. But in Indonesian, the determiner comes after the noun.

  • (ind) Saya suka buku itu → I like that book
  • (ind) Saya suka buku ini → I like this book.
  • (ind) Saya suka buku dia → I like his/her book.
  • (ind) Saya suka rambut ia → I like its hair.


English expresses plurality explicitly by the suffixes '-s' and '-es'. Indonesian on the other hand expresses plurality implicitly. There are no definite rules on creating plural form of a word in Indonesian, except by duplicating the word in the likes of "Buku-buku" (Books) and "Beg-beg" (Bags). That means that plural form of a word can depend on the context.

For example, the sentence "Serigala itu binatang" can have three interpretations outside of context:

  • (ind) Serigala itu binatang → A wolf is an animal
  • (ind) Serigala itu binatang → Wolves are animals
  • (ind) Serigala itu binatang → Wolf is animal

Another example is "Tukang pos selalu membawa surat" with two interpretations.

  • (ind) Tukang pos selalu membawa surat → A postman always brings letters
  • (ind) Tukang pos selalu membawa surat → Postmen always bring letters

Alternatively, Indonesian can express plurality explicilty with the use of the word 'banyak', which means 'many'.

  • (ind) Saya ada banyak surat → I have letters
  • (ind) Saya ada banyak surat → I have many letters


Personal Pronouns

In Indonesian, the verb doesn't agree in number and person with the pronoun. This is unlike English.

  • (id) Saya bermain bola sepak → I play soccer.
  • (id) Awak bermain bola sepak → You (singular) play soccer.
  • (id) Dia bermain bola sepak → He/she play soccer.

(In Indonesian, there are no distinctions between he or she.)

  • (id) Kami bermain bola sepak → We play soccer
  • (id) Kamu bermain bola sepak → You all (plural) play soccer.
  • (id) Mereka bermain bola sepak → They play soccer.

Terms of Address

In Indonesian, the term of address is to differentiate positions of people. It is also used to show politeness in conversation. In English, such terms are not used. English only addresses "You" to all of their interlocutors.

  • (en) Have you eaten? (To a formal guest) → Anda sudah makan?
  • (en) Have you eaten? (To a friend or informally) → Awak sudah makan?
  • (en) Have you eaten (To father/mother) → Bapa/Ibu sudah makan?
  • (en) Have you eaten? (To younger/older sibling) → Adik/Kakak sudah makan?


Adjectives in Indonesian succeed the nouns they modify, unlike English which has the adjective precede the noun it is modifying.

  • (id) rambut hitam → black hair (literally translated "hair black")
  • (id) ikan besar → big fish (literally translated "fish big")
  • (id) anak kecil → little sister (literally translated "sister little")
  • (id) lelaki tinggi → tall boy (literally translated "boy tall")
  • (id) cikgu gemuk → fat teacher (literally translated "teacher fat")
  • (id) ibu cantik → beautiful mother (literally translated "mother beautiful")
  • (id) kotak tinggi → tall box (literally translated "box tall")
  • (id) taxi kuning → yellow taxi (literally translated "taxi yellow")
  • (id) televisyen warna → color television (literally translated "television color")
  • (id) pokok epal → apple tree (literally translated "tree apple")
  • (id) isteri muda → young wife (literally translated "wife young")


Verb "be"

The verb "be" may or may not have its equivalent in the Indonesian language.

  • (en) He is clever. → Dia pandai

In this sentence, the verb 'is' has no equivalent in the Indonesian language.

  • (en) He is a teacher → Dia se-orang cikgu
  • (en) He is a teacher → Dia ada se-orang cikgu

The English sentence has two grammatical Indonesian translations. In this case, the verb 'is' may or may not be translated and both are correct in Indonesian language.

  • (en) He is at home → Dia ada di rumah

The verb 'is' is usually translated into 'ada' when the sentence stands alone, but in some situations like an answer of a question: "Dimana dia?" (Where is he?), the question may be answered, "Dia di rumah". The word 'ada' is elliptic.

Tense Conjugations

In Indonesian, there are verb conjugations. These conjugations are prefixes attached to the verb. These prefixes make the tense understood. In English, the subject most always has to be stated (an exception for the imperative). Below are some examples of simple past tense in English.

  • I went
  • You (singular) went
  • He/She/It went
  • We went
  • You all (plural) went
  • They went

  • I screamed
  • You (singular) screamed
  • He/She/It screamed
  • We screamed
  • You all (plural) screamed
  • They screamed

  • I saw
  • You (singular) saw
  • He/She/It saw
  • We saw
  • You all (plural) saw
  • They saw

However, in Indonesian, prefixes added to the verbs make the tense understood.

  • (id) Saya pergi → I went
  • (id) Awak pergi → You (singular) went
  • (id) Dia pergi → He/She went
  • (id) Kami pergi → We went
  • (id) Kamu pergi → You all (plural) went
  • (id) Mereka pergi → They went

  • (id) Saya menjerit → I screamed
  • (id) Awak menjerit → You (singular) screamed
  • (id) Dia menjerit → He/She screamed
  • (id) Kami menjerit → We screamed
  • (id) Kamu menjerit → You all (plural) screamed
  • (id) Mereka menjerit → They screamed

  • (id) Saya melihat → I saw
  • (id) Awak melihat → You (singular) saw
  • (id) Dia melihat → He/She/It saw
  • (id) Kami melihat → We saw
  • (id) Kamu melihat → You all (plural) saw
  • (id) Mereka melihat → They saw

Below are the same verbs translated to present perfect tense from Indonesian to English. In the simple present tense, the prefixes change because the tense changed.

  • (id) Saya dipergi → I have gone
  • (id) Awak dipergi → You (singular) have gone
  • (id) Dia dipergi → He/She has gone
  • (id) Kami dipergi → We have gone
  • (id) Kamu dipergi → You all (plural) have gone
  • (id) Mereka dipergi → They have gone

  • (id) Saya dijerit → I have screamed
  • (id) Awak dijerit → You (singular) have screamed
  • (id) Dia dijerit → He/She has screamed
  • (id) Kami dijerit → We have screamed
  • (id) Kamu dijerit → You all (plural) have screamed
  • (id) Mereka dijerit → They have screamed

  • (id) Saya dilihat → I have seen
  • (id) Awak dilihat → You (singular) have seen
  • (id) Dia dilihat → He/She has seen
  • (id) Kami dilihat → We have seen
  • (id) Kamu dilihat → You all (plural) have seen
  • (id) Mereka dilihat → They have seen


Direction Prepositions

Prepositions in Indonesian follow a similar format to English, but there is only one word to indicate it is a preposition, "di", with the direction modifier behind it. "di" alone means "at".

  • (en) above the table → di atas meja
  • (en) below the table → di bawah meja
  • (en) near me → di dekat saya
  • (en) far from me → di jauh saya
  • (en) He is at home. → Dia ada di rumah.

Moving Prepositions

In Indonesian, a different word is used to indicate "to" and "from" depending on the context. If the subject is moving to/from a place, the Indonesian equivalent is "ke/dari". But if the subject is receiving an object from another person, the Indonesian equivalent is "kepada/daripada". The "pada" suffix indicated receiving something from another person.

  • (en) He came home from school. → Dia pulang dari sekolah
  • (en) He went to school. → Dia pergi ke sekolah
  • (en) He received a letter from Father. → Dia diberi surat daripada bapa.
  • (en) Father gave him a letter. → Bapa memberi surat kepada dia.


Open Ended Questions

In English, we put the question word at the front, then the auxiliary verb, then the subject, e.g. "When will you be back?". In Indonesian, "-kah" is attached to the question word, which goes at the beginning of the question. So, the above is translated into "Bilakah awak pulang?". Remember that the verb 'be' need not be translated as well.

  • (en) How did you win? → Bagaimanakah awak jaya? (Literal English: How you win?)
  • (en) Why did you win? → Mengapakah awak jaya? (Literal English: Why you win?)
  • (en) When did you win? → Bilakah awak jaya? (Literal English: When you win?)
  • (en) Who won? → Siapakah menjaya? (Literal English: Who won?)

Yes/No Questions

In English, we put our auxiliary verbs at the beginning, followed by the subject, followed by the main verb phrase, e.g. "Did you paint the house?". In Indonesian, the auxiliary verb is also omitted, but the question word is not necessarily at the start of the sentence. In fact, in some cases, '-kah' is not necessary.

  • (en) Are you hungry? → Awak laparkah? (Literal English: You hungry?)
  • (en) Did you eat? / Have you eaten? → Awak sudah makan? (Literal English: You already ate?)
  • (en) Did you paint the house? / Have you painted the house? → Awak sudah mencatkan rumah? (Literal English: You already painted house?)
  • (en) Will you come tomorrow? → Adakah awak datang hari esok? (Literal English: Have you arrived tomorrow?)