Indonesian Language System

The Indonesian language has a rather easy way of forming words. There are base words (kata dasar) that can be used with prefixes (awalan) and suffixes (akhiran). To gain vocabulary, one only has to memorize the base word and the possible extended meanings may be apparent. Here are the simplified, general definitions:


  • ber– have…, uses…, make…       Example: angin wind, berangin have wind circulating
  • di– passive verb form (replaces me*)       Example: melepas remove, dilepas has been removed
  • dwi– double, two (rarely used)       Example: dwibahasa bilingual
  • ke– abstract form, used with –an (could mean anything, one has to know the individual meaning). 
           Example: tinggi high / ketinggian height, semut ant / kesemutan go to sleep of a limb
           Also used for ordinal numbers: kelima fifth, keenam sixth
  • me*- verb form,  makes base word into a verb       Example: tali rope, menali tie wih rope (t is dropped, see below for rules)
  • pe*- the person or thing that does the base word. Often used with –an.
           Example: takut be afraid, penakut coward
  • per– noun form. Often used with –an.
           Example: rusuh restless, disturbed perusuhan riot, disturbance
  • se– 1. one, 2. the same as…       Example: (1) sebulan one month, (2) semuka having the same appearance
  • ter– 1. the most, 2. accidentally happened
           Example: (1) tertinngi the highest, (2) tejatuh fall suddenly, (1) tertinggal left behind


  • an noun form
           Example: pikir think, pikiran thought
  • i indicates direction, application, movement toward…
           Example: naik climb, menaiki climb onto something
  • in same as –kan (Jakarta slang)
  • kan make, cause to happen (often used with me*)
           Example: lari run, melarikan cause something to run
  • pun also, even, ever it might be
           Example: bagaimana how, bagaimanapun however
  •  pronouns:
    • ku mine (first person possessive) (informal)
    • mu, -kau your (second person possessive) (informal)
    • nya his, hers, its (third person possessive)

Suffixes and prefixes can be used in combinations, too. Example: memperbaiki repair

Me* and pe* may have additional letters following depending on the first letter of the base word. Both have the same rules:

a mengg mengm met men (t is removed)
b memh mengn meu meng
c mei mengo mengv me
menmenp mem (p is removed)w me
e mengk meng (k is removed)r memen
f mem (f is removed)l mes meny (s is removed)

The first letter of some foreign-sounding base word is often not removed for clarity. Example: protes memprotes.

Some examples follow. You may see that the above definitions are not exact, but an indication of how the prefixes and suffixes affect the word.

base word baikbase word kuasabase word lepas
baik good
sebaiknya preferable
sebaik as good as
berbaik be on good terms with
berbaik-baik make peace
membaik improve
membaiki improve something, repair
membaikkan improve something, treat well
memperbaiki correct, repair
terbaik best
terbaiki repairable
kebaikan goodness
baikan improvement
pembaikan construction 
perbaikan upgrading
kuasa power, might
berkuasa hold the power
manguasai dominate
menguasakan authorize
terkuasai controllable
terkuasakan can be delegated
kekuasaan authority, control
penguasa one in authority
penguasaan mastery
lepas free, liberated
berlepas be unencumbered
melepas remove
melepasi discharge
melepaskan let something go
terlepas released
terlepaskan can be let loose
kelepasan freedom
lepasan ex-, former…
pelepas one who releases
pelepasan a dismissal
perlepasan a release

Reference for word definitions: An Indonesian-English dictionary / by John M. Echols and Hassan Shadily