Session 2 : Addressing Someone – Learn Bahasa Indonesia

Personal pronouns

  • I : Aku (informal), Saya (formal)
  • You (singular) : Kamu (informal), Anda (formal)
  • He/She : Dia
  • We : Kita, Kami
  • You (plural) : Kalian
  • They : Mereka

In case you are not in a familiar context : if you refer to yourself as saya remember to address the other person as anda and not kamu, otherwise you’re implying that you are better than your interlocutor (because you deserve the formal pronoun and not him).

In case you want to make sure you don’t do any mistake, adress the other person with bapak or ibu (see kinship terms below).

I use informal pronouns almost all the time and it has never got me into trouble. It gives my Indonesia a rather friendly tone though. Of course, if I got pulled over by the police and I’m not carrying my licence I will adapt my language.

By using kita, you are including the listener into the we, while by using kami you are exluding him. My advice : use kita all the time until you are confident with the language. Many native Indonesians never use kami at all (Tempo).

Possessive pronouns

If you remember the first session, you know that personal and possessive pronouns are indistinctive in Indonesian. Hence Aku = I = My

You may also remember that Indonesian people love to shorten up words. When used as possessive pronouns aku, kamu and dia are often transformed into a suffix (-ku, -mu, -nya) that is added to the noun.

  • Berapa umur kamu ? = Berapa umurmu ? [How many age you ?] : How old are you ?
  • Ini rumah dia = Ini rumahnya [This house-his] : This is his house
  • Itu tas aku = Itu tasku [That bag-my] : That is my bag

Keep in mind that -nya suffix has a lots of other purposes, the most common one being to put the emphasis on one word. In informal Indonesian -nya can also serve as an equivalent of kamu (yours). 

  • Itu rumahnya ! : can also be translated also into “This is the house !” (that we were looking for) depending on the context.
  • (inf.) Siapa namanya ? [Who name-your ?] : What is your name ? 

Kinship terms

Instead of using a personal pronoun, Indonesian people very often use a family term to address to someone.

Kinship terms for beginners

  • Bapak / inf. Pak [father] : to address an older person or someone with a good social status (government official, teacher, doctor …)
  • Ibu / inf. Bu [mother] : equivalent of bapak for women.
  • Kakak / inf. Kak [older sibling] : to address someone about your age or slightly older.
  • Adik / inf. Ade [younger sibling] : to address someone younger than you.

For intermediate speakers

More personal pronouns

In Jakarta slang, aku can be replaced by gue and kamu by lo.

Ia and beliau (respectful) are equivalent of dia in written Indonesia.

In movie subtitles or songs, kamu is very often substituted by kau. I’m not 100% but I think it’s a shortening of enkau.

In some regions, they might prefer a given pronoun that is seldom used elsewhere. For instance in Ambon, they use beta a lot instead of saya (except in the song “Indonesia, tanah air beta …” I never heard it anywhere but in Ambon).

More kinship terms

  • Mas/Mbak : Javanese words to address a young man/woman. If you call someone like that, you imply that he is Javanese. It would be improper to call someone from Sumatra or Sulawesi like that for instance, unless he is a Javanese immigrant.
  • Kakek [grandfather] : to address an old male (Bapak can be used also by default)
  • Nenek [grandmother] : to address an old female (Ibu can be used also by default)
  • Paman / inf. Om [uncle] : to address someone older that you know and respect. That’s the way drivers are called most of the time, even if you don’t know them
  • Tante / inf. Bibi [aunty] : equivalent of Paman for women.
  • Abang [elder] : to address someone older
  • Tuan [Sir] : out of fashion polite way to address a man. Sounds a bit colonial
  • Nyona [Mrs] : out of fashion polite way to address a woman. Sounds a bit colonial
  • Nona [Miss] : very polite way to address an unmaried woman. Sounds a bit colonial
  • Bung, Abang, Bang [comrade, brother] : familiar or affective way to address a male adult

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