Pronoun Substitutes

The use of second-person pronouns is very tricky. Engkau, kau and kamu can only be used to address a younger person, one’s subordinate or among good friends. Because of this kinship terms are used as pronoun substitutes.

Saudara, Saudari

Saudara for male and saudari for female, like anda, is widely used for ‘you’ to people of one’s own age or younger. It has impersonal tone, and it generally used to whome the speaker is not well acquainted.

Bapak, Ibu

These are respectful forms used to older people or to any adult of marriageable age. As pronoun substitutes bapak and ibu can also mean ‘I’. They are restricted to use by older people to younger people, whether their own children or not.

Bapak tinggal di sini?
Ini anak ibu?
Ibu mau ke pasar.
Berikan buku itu pada bapak!
Do you live here?
Is this your child?
I am going to the market.
Give that book to me.
said to an older man
said to an older woman
said by a woman to someone younger
said by a man to a younger person

Pak and bu are the abbreviated forms of bapak and ibu, but they can not be used alone as pronoun substitutes. However, in combination with a name they can be used as terms for reference to a third person or in addressing a second person as pronoun substitutes.

Pak Hasan mau makan sekarang?
Pak Hasan mau makan sekarang?
Do you want to eat now, Mr. Hasan?
Does Mr. Hasan want to eat now?
as pronoun substitute
reference to a third person

Personal Names

Personal names are commonly used as substitutes for ‘I’ and ‘you’, particularly among children.

Dina mau ikut.
Dina mau ikut?
Ini untuk Dina
I want to come.
Do you want to come?
This is for you.
said by a girl named Dina
addressed to a girl named Dina
said to a girl named Dina

Total avoidance or -nya

When there is uncertainty about how a person should be addressed, Indonesians have a number of strategies for avoiding offense. They may avoid using a pronoun altogether, or use third person-nya. In this case ‘-nya‘ is not used as a third person pronoun but as a second-person pronoun.

Tinggal dimana?
Dimana rumahnya?
Where do (you) live?
Where do you live?
avoid using a pronoun
use -nya as a second-person pronoun

Other Terms

Pronoun Substitutes Meaning Application
gue, gua;
elo, elu, lu
abang
adik
om; tante
mas; mbak
I, my, me;
you
big brother
younger brother/sister
uncle; aunt(Dutch)
older brother; older sister(Javanese)
Colloquial Jakartan, only used among very closed friends
informal, neutral, singular, to older male
informal, neutral, singular, to younger person
for older person, more informal than bapak, ibu
informal, polite, can be used to older or younger people

Read also “Asking For What You Want In Indonesian” written by Dr. Timothy Hassall, Lecturer in Indonesian, Australian National University, Canberra.

Reference:
Indonesian Reference Grammar by James Neil Sneddon, 1996.

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