Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verb is one that “looks back” in the sense that it relates back to the doer of the action and not to anyone or anything else. In other words it signifies an action that is done by someone or something, but it is not done to anyone or anything. An example of an intransitive verb in English is the verb “to die”. You can say:

“She died.”

But you cannot say:

*“She died her husband.”

Intransitive verbs take several forms in Indonesian. Some are single morphemes, others have prefixes. Some examples of single-morpheme intransitive verbs are:

setuju, mandi, tidur, bangun, pergi, datang, terbang, masuk, duduk, kawin

Other intransitive verbs consist of a base word plus an affix. The most common affix on intransitive verbs is the prefix ber-, in fact most (but not all) words that have a ber- prefix on them are intransitive verbs.

berjalan, berhenti, beristirahat, berubah, berlibur, bermain, berbicara

A complicating factor here is that sometimes the ber- prefix is dropped, especially if you are speaking rapidly or informally. Compare these pairs of sentences. Each pair has basically the same meaning and both sentences are 100% correct, but the first is formal than the second informal.

Saya ingin berjalan kaki saja.
Aku kepengin jalan kaki aja.
I’d prefer to just walk.
Sesudah beristirahat dia mandi
Sesudah istirahat dia mandi.
After taking a rest she had a bath.
Pada hari Sabtu pagi biasanya saya bermain golf.
Sabtu pagi biasanya aku main golf.
I usually play golf on Saturday mornings.

There are also many intransitive verbs that have a me- prefix. These are probably fewer in number than those with a ber- prefix but you have already met one or two of them.

Apakah Anda pandai menyanyi?
Are you any good at singing?

Anak-anak ini belum bisa membaca dan menulis!
These children can’t read or write yet!

Di mana Anda mengajar?
Where do you teach?

Ibu Simatupang suka sekali memasak.
Mrs Simatupang enjoys cooking.

Katanya mereka akan menikah.
I’ve heard they’re going to get married.

Gunung Merapi meletus kemarin.
Mount Merapi erupted yesterday.


The prefix ber-, which is usually (but by no means always) a marker of an intransitive verb, attaches directly on the front of a base word (usually) without any assimilation or fusion. Here are some examples:

-ubah » berubah
-temu » bertemu
-cakap-cakap » bercakap-cakap
-belanja » berbelanja
-asal » berasal
-dansa » berdansa
-henti » berhenti

But in a few special cases some assimilation takes places. The /r/ in ber- may change to /l/ or disappear altogether. For example:

-ajar » belajar
-kerja » bekerja
-renang » berenang


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