Session 12 : Informal particles – Learn Bahasa Indonesia

Particles that I will talk about in this session are used in every daily conversation. The problem is that they have no clear definition, they rather convey a feeling or state of mind. For this reason they are impossible to translate literally and quite hard to translate accurately. The way they are pronounced is essential to get them right, because they all have multiple meanings.

Remember that they are highly informal and hence belong solely to the oral language.

Particles that cannot convey negative feeling

Incorporating particles to your Indonesian is gonna be an essential step towards fluency. The problem is that some particles can convey feelings like annoyance or sarcasm. I advise you to start using the ones from this part first, because they cannot be really misinterpreted.

Kan

The kan particle is often used in informal Indonesian, most of the time you can translate it by right. You are asking for the other people agreement or confirmation.
  • Kamu temenin aku kan ? [You accompany me right ?] : You will accompany me, right  ?
  • Bagus kan kacamataku ? [Good right glasses I ?] : My sunglasses are good right ?

It can also means that you are reminding something to the listener or you are putting the emphasis on something. From my experience kan is a rather neutral particle.

  • Kan masih butuh 2 juta lagi [See still need 2 million] : See, you still need 2 more million
  • Tuh kan [That see] : See, I told you {tuh is an equivalent of itu}
  • Saya lagi di kantor kan harus selasai siapkan semua untuk besok [I “happening right now” at office “you know” must finish prepare all for tomorrow] : I’m at the office, I told you I have to finish preparing everything for tomorrow

Adding ya everywhere

It is very common to add ya or yah or iya (most of the time you hear /iyaa/) at the end of a sentence. It is a way to request the approval from the other person.

  • Ini undangan untuk pernikahan saya, kamu datang ya ? [This invitation for wedding I, you come yes ?] : This is the invitation card for my wedding, you will come right ?
  • Enak yah ? [Tasty, right ?] : It’s good right ?

In my understanding, you cannot really answer no after such a question. While by using kan the answer expected is a bit more open.

A very common use is to add iya after thank you, it reinforces the thank you without giving the impression to do too much. It should sounds something like /makasihiyaaah/. Works also with maaf (sorry).

Kok

Another very common particle. The meaning depends on its position in the sentence :

  • At the beginning of a sentence, it can be a colloquial alternative to kenapa (why), but it comes with a feeling of not really pleasing surprise, so it can be translated also by how come :
    • Kok ga ada namamu di pintu ? [Why not have name you at door ?] : Why your name isn’t on the door ?
    • Kok mobilku parkir di sana ? [How come car I parked at there ?] : How come my car is parked over there ?
    • Kok kamu tahu ? [How come you know] : How come you know ?
  • Elsewhere in the sentence it is more generally a way to emphasise your point. You could translate it as something close to “you know“. Quite often it comes with an idea of refuting what the other person said before
    • Maaf iya, bahasaku belum sempurna [Sorry yeah, language I not yet perfect] : Sorry yeah, my Indonesian is not yet perfect
    • Answer : Tidak apa apa. Bahasamu sudah bagus kok [No what what. Language you already good “kok”] : No problem. Your Indonesia is already good, you know
    • Mahal, ga ? [Expensive, no ?] : Is it expensive or not ?
    • Answer : Ga mahal kok [No expensive “kok”] : It’s not expensive, I tell you 
    • Kamu mau ga pergi besok ? [You want not got tomorrow ?] : Do you want to go tomorrow or not ?
    • Answer : Aku mau kok ikut kalian pergi besok [I want “kok” join you go tomorrow] : I do want to join you guys tomorrow

Loh

Also written lho (original spelling in Javanese), it either conveys an idea of surprise (especially if placed at the beginning of a sentence), either an emphasis or an idea similar to “you know“.

  • Loh, dia dipecat ? [What, he “passive”-sack”] : What ? He got fired ?
  • Bagus loh ceritanya [Bagus “emphasis” story the] : The story is really good
  • Hari ini ulang tahun Ibu loh ! [Day this repeat year Mum “you know” !] : Gosh, today is Mom’s birthday !
  • Aku cuman pesan dua loh [I just order two “you know”] : I only ordered two, ok ? {Possible answer to someone telling you that you ordered a lot and you are a little bit annoyed}

Loh is often combined with kok.

  • Loh restaurantnya kok tutup ? [“Loh” restaurant the “kok” close ?] : What ? How come the restaurant is closed ?

Dong

Dong has two main purpose :

  • To kindly stress that what you are saying is kind of obvious and that the people you are speaking to should already know it
    • Lebih bagus menyelam di mana ? Komodo atau Bali ? [More good dive at where ? Komodo or Bali ?] : Where is the best diving ? Komodo or Bali ?
    • Answer : Komodo dong : Komodo, of course.
    • Boleh minta lagi ? [May ask again ?] : May I take some more ?
    • Answer : Makan lagi dong [Eat again “dong”] : Of course, eat more
  • It’s a way to turn a request into a more polite sentence
    • Kasih keterangan tempat dong kak [Give detail place “dong” older bro/sis] : Share the detail of the place, pleeease
    • Jangan dong [Do not “dong”] : Please, don’t {as your friend I advise you not do it}
    • Bagi dong [Share “dong”] : Come on, share with me

Dong always share a benign feeling, it can be light amusement or friendly advice, but never annoyance.

Nah

This one is quite easy, it is either a way to introduce a new topic or to draw the listener’s attention. Hence you can usually translate it by then or well.

  • Nah aku bilang juga apa, lebih baik pergi kemarin [“Nah” I say also what, more good go yesterday] : Well, what did I say ? Better go yesterday

Particles that can convey negative feeling

Deh

The main purpose of deh is to express that you do / choose / accept something because there you have no choice : you might be forced, or there is simply no available alternative (and you wish there was one).

When using deh with a request or a command you are trying to create this feeling in the listener’s mind, that this is the way it is.

This idea of pushing someone (or being pushed) is reflected into the pronunciation of the whole sentence and the deh particle.

  • Aku ke dokter aja deh [I to doctor just “no other choice”] : I will just go to the doctor then {I try to rest, to medicate myself but it isn’t working and I have to go to work}
  • Ikut deh [Join “deh”] : You’re coming with {us}
  • Ya udah deh, aku akan pindah ke sana [Yes already “deh”, I will change to there] : Allright allright, I will move there {I wish I could do otherwise but I accept the decision}

Giving an order with deh doesn’t have to be associated with an aggressive tone. You can pronounce like you were begging the listener.

  • Datang deh [Come “deh”] : Please come {I’m almost begging you so you have to come}

Deh can also be used to convey feelings associated to being forced to do something : annoyance for instance.

  • Berisik deh ! [Noisy “deh”] : It’s noisy {and I don’t like it}
  • Ga tau deh ! [No know “deh”] : I don’t know {replied to someone who keep asking you the same question, imply “leave me alone you’re bothering me”}

When pronounced neutrally, deh is a way to express the idea that this is the way it is : hence that you’re telling the truth.

  • Jangan percaya deh [Do no trust “deh”] : Don’t trust {people}, I’m telling you
  • Bangga banget deh sama atlet-atlet Indonesia di SEA Games 2017! [Proud very “deh” with athlet athlet Indonesia at SEA Games 2017 !] : So proud of Indonesian athlets for SEA Games 2017 !
  • Indonesia emang paling jago deh kalo masalah kuliner nasi-nasian! [Indonesia indeed most skillful “deh” if problem culinary rice stuff !] : Indonesia is indeed the best expert when it comes to cooking rice !

Deh has also the function of showing that you changed or made up your mind :

  • Malamnya kita ketemu di Kuningan. Eh ! Bukan deh ! Gwe salah ! Di SCBD aja iya ? [Night this we meet at Kuningan. Eh ! No “deh” ! I wrong ! At SCBD just yes ?] : Tonight we meet in Kuningan. Eh ! No no no ! I’m wrong ! In SCBD ok ?

Lah

Lah essentialy means that “this is the right thing to do. It can be pronounced either nicely or in a more annoyed way.

Let’s say you pronounced lah in a gentle, enthusiast way (usually increasing tone) :

  • Bego lah [Silly “lah”] : Silly you {you’re acting like an idiot but it’s okay, I like it / I think it’s funny}
  • Makan lah [Eat “lah”] : Just eat {it’s the right thing to do, stop waiting for me and eat}
  • Beli yang merah lah [Buy which red “lah”] : Buy the red one, trust me {it’s the best one}

Let’s say you pronounce it in a more annoyed way (decreasing tone) :

  • Pergi lah [Go “lah”] : You better go away
  • Lebih bagus naik ojek, ada macet di sini [More good go up ojek, have traffic jam at here] : Better ride a motorbike taxi, there is a traffic jam here
  • Answer : Pake ojek lah [Use ojek “lah”] : Allright, I’ll use an ojek {I know it’s the best thing to do because there is traffic, but I still don’t like the idea}

The difference between the last answer and “Pake ojek deh” is that the later one implies that there was no other choice available (no taxi, no bus, no car …) while the lah version implies that you know it’s the best thing to do (but you could still take your car and get stuck).

Sih

To be honnest I find this one to be the hardest one to use right because it has so many potential meanings. Also don’t confuse the particle sih with si that you can translate by the (si cowok : the guy).

Sih is very common within a question. It tends to make it sound like the request is smoother. When you ask a personal question about someone, you very often use the sih particle

  • Bulan ini, tanggal berapa sih yang kamu paling tunggu, kenapa ? [Month this, date how many “sih” which you most wait, why ?] : This month, any special day you are waiting for ? Why ?

Sih can also express an idea of uncertainty, especially when quoting someone else :

  • Biasanya sih gitu : [Usually “sih” like that] : That usually what happens
  • Dengar dengar sih dia selingkuh pacarnya [Hear hear “sih” he/she cheat girl/boyfriend his/her] : The rumor say {he} cheated on {his} girlfriend
  • Kayaknya sih [I think “sih”] :  I think so yeah {but I’m not 100% sure}

Sih also conveys an idea of resentment or puzzlement. It is often used to make sarcasm or to reply to a remark you didn’t like. Like always, the tone is key to understand the idea :

  • Apaan sih : What the hell ?
  • Ada apa sih : What is going on ? {Depending on how you pronounce it it can imply a feeling of confusion or anger}
  • Gimana sih [How “sih”] : common idiom, depending on the tone can mean How + feeling of confusion or how come / what the hell
  • Bisnya sih selalu terlambat [Bus this “sih” always late] : This bus is always late {it’s pissing me off}
  • Loh, pelit banget sih lo [Wow, stingy very “sih” you] : It’s amazing how stingy you are

Sih can also have the meaning of “as for” :

  • Saya sih yakin kalau makan itu jadi sakit [I “sih” sure if eat that become ill] : As for me, I’m sure that {you} will get sick if {you} eat that

Eventually sih can be used, like almost all the previous particles, to put the emphasis on something. On top of that sih can introduce a notion of causality.

  • Kamu sih, kita jadi ketinggalan pesawat [You “sih”, we become be left behind plane] : Because of you, we eventually missed our flight
  • Lucu banget sih lagunya [Cute very “sih” song this] : This song is sooo cute

Nih and Tuh

They are actually ini and itu with modified spelling. Most of the time they take a different meaning that the original word (ini and itu).

Nih and tuh are very often used in combination with other particles and are a way to add more emphasis.

  • Fakta nih [Fact “nih”] : This is a fact

With a decreasing tone, it can convey an idea of annoyance

  • Aku ga pergi ke sekolah tinggi, ga bisa dapat perkerjaan yang bagus nih [I no go to school high, no can get job which good “nih”] : I don’t have any higher education, so I cannot get a corporate job …
  • Ntar aku tidur terlalu malam dan bangun pagi pagi nih [Later I sleep too much night and wake up morning morning “nih”] : Later I’m going to go to sleep too late and wake up early {and I’m tired and not happy about this}.

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