Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Learning to Say No

Are you the type of person who has difficulty saying ‘No’? Well I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is, Indonesian people are generally polite and kind, so they often don’t like to say ‘No’ either. The bad news is, that could be why saying ‘No’ in Indonesian is not such a simple matter.

There are several ways to express negatives in Indonesian, and different words are appropriate in different situations. In this lesson let’s learn how to say ‘No’, with all its shades of meaning, as the Indonesians do.

Not a Simple No

The two words that clearly mean ‘no’ or ‘not’ are Tidak and Bukan. In most cases, however, they are not interchangeable. Let’s dig a little deeper and start with the most common of the two.

Tidak – Use this word when saying 'no' or 'not' about actions or descriptions (verbs and adjectives). Here are some examples of the proper use of Tidak:

Pak Rudi tidak gemuk. (Pak Rudi is not fat.)

Anak itu tidak taat. (That child is not obedient.)

Andy tidak tinggal di Jakarta. (Andy does not live in Jakarta.)

Saya tidak suka pada rasa susu. (I don’t like the taste of milk.)

The word tidak is used so often, that there are also shortened forms of it both in formal and informal language, such at tak, nggak, gak, and ga.

Bukan – This is the other word that means ‘no’ or ‘not’, but you will hear it less often because it is used when negating people, places or things (nouns and pronouns).

Wanita itu bukan teman saya. (That woman is not my friend.)

Bukan, saya bukan guru. (No, I am not a teacher.)

Mobil dia bukan Toyota. (His car is not a Toyota.)

Payung merah bukan milikmu. (The red umbrella is not yours. - lit. 'your possession')

Hint: A quick trick that helps when trying to remember when to use tidak or bukan is to check the word that immediately follows the ‘no’ equivalent – tidak should be before verbs and adjectives; bukan should be before nouns and pronouns.

Bukan at times is also used as a question confirmation tag, which has the meaning of, ‘is it not?’ In this situation, it might be shortened to just ‘kan’. You will see or hear this at the end of a statement, such as:

Wah! Suhu hari ini tinggi sekali, bukan? (Wow! Today's temperature is very high, isn’t it?)

Kamu punya mobil, kan? (You have a car, don’t you?)

Softening the Blow

As mentioned at the outset, Indonesian people often do not feel comfortable saying a straight out ‘no’, especially to requests. So here are several common ways to say 'no', without quite saying it.

Belum – means ‘not yet’ but is often used to indicate a 'no' that is softer and less final. Always remember that Indonesian people like to stay open to the possibilities!

Use belum when speaking about an experience, time or action. It is also used even when there is no chance of something ever happening. For example:

Apakah Budi sudah pulang? Belum. (Has Budi gone home? Not yet.)

Anda pernah ke Indonesia? Belum. (Have you been to Indonesia? Not yet.)

Tanteku yang berumur 90 tahun, dia menikah? Belum.
(Your aunt who is 90 years old, is she married? Not yet.)

Kurang – also used to soften a negative. In this instance it means ‘not really’ and may soften what would otherwise sound rather harsh.

Warung itu kurang baik. (That diner isn’t really good.)

Susan kurang mengerti bahasa Inggris. (Susan doesn’t really understand English.)

Mungkin nanti or Mungkin kapan-kapan - These expressions mean 'maybe later' or 'maybe sometime', which puts off giving an immediate unfavorable answer, that being, 'no.' Procrastination at its best! These expressions are often preceeded by the word 'ya' even though the phrase is a polite way of saying a probable 'no' without really saying it.

Mau ke bioskop sama saya? Ya, mungkin kapan-kapan.
(Want to go to the movies with me? Yes, maybe sometime.)

Boleh saya pinjam mobilmu? Ya, mungkin nanti.
(May I borrow your car? Yes, maybe later.)

When it Must Be Said

There is one word in Indonesian that indicates a strong and definite negative. It is Jangan. Often used emphatically, it expresses strong feeling. It means “Don’t!”

Jangan lupa saya! (Don’t forget me!)

Jangan masuk. (Don’t enter)

The best way to get the hang of saying 'no' in Indonesian, like much of language learning in general, is to simply listen to as much native Indonesian conversation as possible, as well as jumping in and trying it out what you've been learning.

You can always use ‘tidak’ when in doubt, and you will be correct most of the time. Your meaning will be understood. And with time and practice, you will come to appreciate the texture and elegance of how to say ‘no’ as the Indonesians do.

Selamat belajar!


P.S. A great way to get exposure to Indonesian language is by listening to live radio and TV over the Internet. Here is a link to a few stations that you can listen to using Windows Media Player, which is probably already installed on your computer. http://tinyurl.com/rlg7m