Adverbs of time in Indonesian

Aug 12, 20210 comments

View from an expat in Indonesia:
When tomorrow never comes: Adverbs of time in Indonesian

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Learning a new language is fascinating. A language is not only a combination of words and sentences but also a mirror of the local culture. The way sentences are constructed, the range of vocabulary and the grammar are bridges to cultural awareness.

One thing that confused me during my early days in Indonesia was the use of adverbs of time in the Indonesian language, known as Bahasa Indonesia. It was not simply the literal translation of words like “today” “tomorrow” or “yesterday” but the way they are used. In English, these adverbs tend to be quite precise, for example, “tomorrow” is the day after today, and “yesterday” is the previous day. But this is not the same in the Indonesian language.

You may have experienced this yourself in Indonesia when someone tells you that something will be done “besok” (tomorrow). Then the very next day, you find yourself waiting for the entire day without any update. Or maybe someone told you that they came back from their holidays “kemarin” (yesterday) making you believe that they had just landed the day before. Did you completely misunderstand both people, or did they simply use the wrong adverb? The answer is no, it is just how Indonesian culture interprets time.

In the Indonesian culture, time is a little bit more flexible than in most western cultures. Whilst westerners see “tomorrow” or “yesterday” as exact moments in time, Indonesians consider “tomorrow” as being in the near future and “yesterday” as the near past. So when someone is telling you that something will happen “besok”, expect it to happen some time in the next few days (as a general rule). Confused? Yes, until you understand the subtle differences in Bahasa Indonesia. Here is how to be more specific when talking about times in the Indonesian language. Instead of using these adverbs “tomorrow” or “yesterday”, just use the days of the week: Senin, Selasa, Rabu, Kamis, Jumat, Sabtu, Minggu. Another way is by using “lagi” (for the future) or “yang lalu” (for the past), for example: “2 hari lagi” (two more days) or “2 hari yang lalu” (2 days ago). You can easily replace any length of time (hours, days, weeks, years, etc) with these two expressions.

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Let’s explore the most common adverbs of time in Bahasa Indonesia:

  • Besok: tomorrow
  • Hari ini: today
  • Minggu ini: this week
  • Tahun ini: this year
  • Kemarin: yesterday
  • Sekarang: now
  • Nanti: later
  • Tadi: few moments ago
  • Kemarin lusa: the day before yesterday
  • Besok lusa: the day after tomorrow

Just be careful with one expression in the Indonesian language: “besok-besok”. If someone is telling you that, do not expect anything to happen soon! Besok-besok: maybe one day in the future I told you I was fascinated by learning languages and the Indonesian language, known locally as Bahasa Indonesia is no exception.

If you would like to learn Bahasa Indonesia and the culture behind this beautiful language, visit our website at Indonesian Courses and start your private bahasa Indonesia course with an expert tutor today.

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