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A basic course in the Malaysian and Indonesian languages in 64 lessons  ©pgoh13.com
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  Appendix (Use of affixes in the Malay language)  

 WARNING! Malay affixes (prefixes and suffixes) are very difficult and a foreign student doing "Malay 101" is not expected to make use of them. This appendix intends to help you understand how they are formed. It does not go further than that. Click here for some feedback from a student on this topic.

  The pe(N) and me(N) prefixes  

The pe(N) prefix indicates that a word is a NOUN whereas the me(N) prefix indicates that the word is a VERB.
The pe(N) prefix can take any of the following five forms:
pe-, pem-, pen-, peng- or peny-
Correspondingly the me(N) prefix can take any of the following five forms:
me-, mem-, men-, meng- or meny-
The form that it takes depends on the initial letter of the root word. This rule is best illustrated by specific examples. In the following tables the second column shows the root word, the third column the same word with the pe(N) prefix and the last column shows the word with the me(N) prefix .
It is unlikely that you will be able to find the word penulis, for example, in a Malay-English dictionary as it will appear under the word from which it is derived (tulis).
On the other hand if you should look up an English-Malay dictionary (eg. if you need to know the Malay word for "use") the dictionary will normally give you the word memakai. You have to know that this is not a word by itself but is actually the word pakai with the me(N) prefix attached to it! Putting myself in the place of the student, I can imagine how difficult this question of prefixes is, especially for verbs. The only way to really master this is to go daily to my page for advanced students (Building Up Your Malay Vocabulary) here.

When to use men- or pen- If the root word begins with
c, d, j or t
With the pe(N) prefix With the me(N) prefix
The prefix men- or pen- is used when the root word starts with the letter c, d, j or t. However as can be seen from the examples in Column 3 and 4 the initial letter t is dropped in the prefixed word. curi = to steal
cuci = to clean
dengar = to listen
jual = to sell
jemput = to invite
tulis = to write
tari = to dance
tipu = to cheat
tukar = to change
pencuri = a thief
pencuci = a cleaner
pendengar = a listener
penjual = a seller
penjemput = a guest
penulis = a writer
penari = a dancer
penipu = a cheat
penukar wang = money-changer
mencuri = to steal
mencuci = to clean
mendengar = to listen
menjual = to sell
menjemput = to invite
menulis = to write
menari = to dance
menipu = to cheat
menukar = to change

When to use mem- or pem- If the root word begins
with b, p or f
With the pe(N) prefix With the me(N) prefix
The prefix mem- or pem- is used when the root word starts with the letter b, p or f. However as can be seen from the examples in Column 3 and 4 the initial letter p is dropped in the prefixed word. baca = to read
beri = to give
bantu = to help
buat = to make
beli = to buy
pakai = to use
pukul = to beat
fitnah = to slander
pembaca = a reader
pemberi = person who gives
pembantu =a helper
pembuat = a manufacturer
pembeli = a buyer
pemakai = a user
pemukul = person who beats
pemfitnah = a slanderer
membaca = to read
memberi = to give
membantu = to help
membuat = to make
membeli = to buy
memakai = to use
memukul = to beat
memfitnah = to slander

When to use meny- or peny- If the root word begins with s With the pe(N) prefix With the me(N) prefix
The prefix meny- or peny- is used when the root word starts with the letter s. The initial letter s is dropped in the prefixed word. sapu = to sweep
sokong = to support
penyapu = a broom
penyokong = a supporter
menyapu = to sweep
menyokong = to support

When to use meng- or peng- If the root word begins with
a, g, h, i, k or u
With the pe(N) prefix With the me(N) prefix
The prefix meng- or peng- is used when the root word starts with the letter a, g, h, i, k or u. The initial letter k is dropped in the prefixed word. ambil = to take
ajar = to teach
gosok = to brush
hantar = to send
hisap = to smoke
ikut = to follow
kenal = to know
karang = to write
ulang = to repeat
pengambil = person who takes
pengajar = a teacher
penggosok = a brush
penghantar = a sender
penghisap = a smoker
pengikut = a follower
pengenalan = an acquaintance
pengarang = an author
pengulang = a reviser, repeater
mengambil = to take
mengajar = to teach
menggosok = to brush
menghantar = to send
menghisap = to smoke
mengikut = to follow
mengenal = to know
mengarang = to write
mengulang = to repeat

When to use me- or pe- If the root word begins with
l, m, n or r
With the pe(N) prefix With the me(N) prefix
The prefix me- or pe- is used when the root word starts with the letter l, m, n or r. lawat = to visit
masak = to cook
nafi = to deny
rokok = to smoke
pelawat = a visitor
pemasak = a cook
penafian = a denial
perokok = a smoker
melawat = to visit
memasak = to cook
menafikan = to deny
merokok = to smoke

  The ber- prefix  

There are a number of cases where the ber- prefix is used instead of the meN- prefix but I will only deal with the most common ones here. The ber- prefix is used:
  • for an action that one performs upon or for oneself such as: berjalan (to walk), berlari (run), berdiri (stand), bercukur (shave), bersolek (make up), bermimpi (dream), bersembunyi (hide) and berfikir (think). In the case of verbs that already start with the letter "r" (such as rehat and renang) only "be-" and not "ber-" is prefixed making it berehat (to rest) and berenang (swim).
  • for verbs that indicate possession eg. Sejak berumur lima tahun dia tidak lagi beribu. (Since he was five he did not have a mother.)
    Orang kaya itu berkereta besar. (That rich man has a big car.)
    Durian berduri. (The durian has thorns.)
    Saya tidak berhak meminta pekerjaan itu kerana saya bukan orang Malaysia. (I don't have the right to apply for that job because I am not a Malaysian.)
  • for verbs that indicate what a person is wearing eg. Dia berbaju batik. (He is wearing a batik shirt), berkasut putih (wears white shoes), berseluar jean (wears jeans) and bercermin mata (wears spectacles).
  • for an action between two people or interaction with other people eg berlawan (to fight), bertumbuk (box), berkahwin (marry), bermain (play) and bergurau (joke).
  • for verbs of "utterance" eg. berkata (to say), bercakap (speak), berdoa (pray), berjanji (promise), berterima kasih (or bersyukur) both meaning to give thanks

  The -kan suffix  

Note that the meN- prefix, if used together with the -kan suffix, can be used on reflexive verbs (which normally take the ber- prefix) in order to turn them into transitive verbs i.e. verbs that have to be followed by an object eg. Tukang rambut sedang mencukurkan pelanggannya. (The barber is shaving his customer.) But if you want to say that the barber is shaving himself, and not the customer, the sentence will read Tukang rambut sedang bercukur. In such a case sendiri (oneself) is not necessary as it is already implied in the ber- prefix used for reflexive verbs.
Here is another example where the meN- prefix is used with the -kan suffix to turn the verb into a transitive verb: Perempuan itu sedang menidurkan anaknya. (The woman is putting her child to sleep.) If you are wondering what menidurkan is all about, I don't blame you as the root word is tidur (to sleep). Didn't I warn you that Malay affixes are difficult?

  The -i suffix  

This is a suffix that I didn't think of introducing until I received the following email from a student in Spain asking me about it. He writes as follows:
I was wondering if you could help me with a little question, if it's not too much of a nuisance.
I came across this sentence:
Kita rentasi gunung ini bersama
So I looked up "rentasi", but I didn't find a translation for it, and after some trial and error I discovered that the actual word was "rentas" (= to cross, to take a shortcut), with -i added as suffix.
Go here for more.

  Other prefixes in Malay  

Please note that the above are not the only prefixes and suffixes that exist in the Malay language. The prefix ter- is quite frequently used and is attached to verbs to show that the action is unintentional or accidental (eg. terjatuh meaning "to fall" or terdengar meaning "to hear accidentally" i.e. to overhear).
Another use of the ter- prefix (when it is attached to an adjective) is to denote the superlative case eg. terbesar meaning "biggest".
Then there is a group of nouns which are formed by adding the prefix ke- and the suffix -an, such as the words kebolehan meaning "ability" from boleh and the word kekalahan meaning "defeat" from kalah.
By the way please allow me to congratulate you for having come this far! You are really a VERY serious student!

   Back to Malay language course summary