Jul 19, 2008

How to negate in Indonesian

Now, for a more serious and practical post...

How to do "negation" in Indonesian - one might think that it's just a simple matter or "yes vs. no", but for Indonesian, it's a bit more complicated since there are several ways to negate things in Indonesian, each with its own pragmatic and grammatical nuance.

First, the word for "no" in Indonesian is tidak. However, this can be found in several forms such as nggak, tak, and ndak. What they all have in common is that they have an /a/ followed by a word-final /k/, which is always pronounced as a glottal stop, i.e. [a?]. It's a very sharp, stacatto syllable.

To negate these, one simply adds the negation particle before the main or auxiliary verb:

Saya lapar. 'I'm hungry.' > Saya tidak lapar. 'I'm not hungry.'

Saya belajar bahasa Korea. 'I'm studying Korean.' >
Saya nggak belajar bahasa Korea 'I'm not studying Korean.'

Dia bisa bikin sop. 'S/he can make soup.' > Dia ndak bisa bikin sop. 'S/he cannot make soup.'

However, you cannot use this if you are negating nouns - instead, you must use the particle bukan:

Ed mahasiswa. 'Ed is a college student.' > Ed bukan mahasiswa. 'Ed is not a college student.'

BTW, bukan can also appear as kan, but this is often used at the end of the sentence as a tag question particle, like the Korean suffixes -지?/-지요?/-죠?

Dia gila banget, kan? 'He's really crazy, isn't he?"

There are two other negation particles - kurang 'not quite, lacking' and belum 'not yet'.

Kurang is used when a speaker wants to mitigate his/her assessment of negation, which might reflect a more faithful state of affairs in many cases.

Kok hatinya kurang baik? 'How come s/he's not so kind? (literally, 'his/her liver is not that kind')

Jangan dengarinnya dong - kurang pintar dia! 'Don't listen to him - he's not that smart.'

Ini cukup, ya? Kurang... 'This is enough, right? Not quite...'

Oh, and a classic Indonesian insult - Kurang ajar, which literally means "[You're] not that educated!" but presently means "you fool" or "you jerk".

Belum, on the other hand, means "not yet":

Saya belum ke kantor hari ini. 'I haven't yet gone into the office today.'

Pak Susila belum membeli beras. 'Mr Susila hasn't bought rice yet.'

Also, if there are any single people reading this, you should take note: if an Indonesian asks you either Sudah kawin? 'Are you married?' or Sudah punya pacar? 'Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?', the most appropriate answer is belum. Tidak is grammatically okay, but pragmatically unusual since it is the cultural expectation that everyone eventually settles down and marries (even if the truth is far from that expectation).

Ya, semoga nggak bosan dengan pelajaran ini.
Yes, I hope that you aren't bored with this lesson.


Theresa said...

Thanks! I love this kind of posts in fact. It isn't boring at all.

I know 'tak', we use it alot in singapore! We always say 'tak boleh tahan' which means 'I can't stand it'.

And we also have this slang that goes 'so tak glam' which means 'so unglamorous'. Haha. It's amusing.

Hyeyoung (혜영) said...

thx for your lesson :D i wish i can learn this with your voice someday :)

Ed said...


"So tak glam" - that's great. So, is "tak" the preferred form of the negative in Singapore?