The Classifiers: Buah, Orang and Ekor

The Indonesian language has a fairly large number of classifiers to count objects based on their characteristics. Among the many classifiers for items, the most common one is buah, literally ‘fruit’. If you count cars, for instance, the you can use the classifier: sebuah mobil ‘a car, one car’, dua buah mobil ‘two cars’ etc.

The classifiers can come handy to singularize a word. The sentence Ada mobil di depan rumah kita can mean ‘there is a car in front of our house’, or ‘there are cars in front of our house’ because every noun in the Indonesian language can be singular or plural. In order to singularize the word you can say Ada sebuah mobil di depan rumah kita ‘there is a car in front of our house’.

The classifier buah can be used with many objects. Even objects that should carry a different classifier such as batang (used for stick-like objects), biji (used for very small round objects), helai (used for flat soft items), or keping (used for flat rigid items) can often take the classifier buah.

Animals are counted by ekor ‘tail’: seekor kucing ‘a cat’, dua ekor anjing ‘two dogs’, and people by orang: seorang perempuan ‘a woman’, dua orang perempuan ‘two women’ etc.

Examples

Root Word Se + Root Word Meaning
batang sebatang lilin a candle stick
buah sebuah apel an apple
cangkir secangkir teh a cup of tea
ekor seekor kambing a goat
gelas segelas air a glass of water
helai sehelai rambut one piece of hair
ikat seikat bunga a bunch of flowers
kejap sekejap mata in a blink of an eye
lembar selembar kertas one piece of paper
mangkuk semangkuk sup a bowl of soup
orang seorang wanita a woman
pasang sepasang sepatu a pair of shoes
piring sepiring makanan a plate of food
potong sepotong kue a slice of cake
sendok sesendok makan one table spoon
siung sesiung bawang putih a clove of garlic
suap sesuap nasi a mouthful of rice
tangkai setangkai bunga a flower
titik setitik darah a drop of blood

Dr. Uli Kozok, University of Hawaii at Manoa

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