Nizar’s List of Malay Pronouns

Well, I’ve written about English pronouns in Malay, and more recently about how pronouns can be politically explosive in Malaysia (and elsewhere). Just in case you haven’t figured out by now that I’m fascinated by languages generally and by pronouns in particular, here’s a big list of pronouns used by Malay people. The list was compiled by none other than Nizar Ismail, who finally did get his own blog but really wanted this list published in mine. He said he’s just using me to get readers, or something like that. Hah! Well, I don’t mind.

The following list, while perhaps not an exhaustive one (someone always brings up another obscure addition), is certainly interesting. I’m not sure about the inclusion of at least one pronoun used by the Semang people, unless they actually use it when they’re speaking Malay. And where’s the northern Malay third-person pronoun depa? And could various titles such as the Malay equivalents of Mr., Mrs., brother, sister, etc. really be considered pronouns? (My guess is yes, since they’re often used without the person’s name as both subject and object.) I can’t really say much else about the list, since I’m no expert on Malay pronouns. All I’ll say is that Nizar did a great job.

Everything below the line of asterisks is Nizar’s. I’ve edited slightly for language and formatting, but otherwise everything’s his. Any text added by me is in parentheses and marked with three asterisks.

OK, enjoy!



*e = e pepet, sounds like i in bird; Ä“ = e taling, sounds like e in “hey”.

1st person singular pronouns:

Saya – the most common word, pairs with “awak/kamu/anda”.

Aku - common, said to someone close, may sound unmannered if speaker is not close to listener, but in Indonesia, this is OK. Also, when praying to God, “aku” is always used (to show closeness). Pairs with “engkau/kau” in Malaysia, “engkau/kau/kamu” in Indonesia.

BÄ“ta - “saya”, said by a sultan/sultanah.

Teman – “saya”, in Perak.

CÄ“k – “saya”, in Penang/Kedah, said to someone older.

Kula/kulo – “saya/aku”, in Javanese (in Batu Pahat, Muar, Kuala Selangor, and other areas where old Javanese people can be found).

KamÄ“k - “saya”, in Sarawak. “Kamek orang” for plural.

DÄ“nai/DÄ“n/Ä’sÄ“ – “saya”, in Minangkabau slang (especially in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, and South Sumatera).

Awak - “saya”, in sounthern Perak (Tapah, Setiawan, Bota, Batu Gajah, Grik, etc).

Ambo/KawÄ“ - “saya”, in Kelantan/Terengganu.

Kami/Kita – “saya”, said by kids among themselves, usually in Johor.

Kawan – “saya”, in Johor (not widely used today).

Orang – “saya”, in Singapore (***Jordan’s note: also in Johor!).

Ana - “saya”, from Arabic (sometimes used by Muslim scholars, eg tabligh, or someone who tries to adopt a little Arab culture).

Wa/Gua – “aku”, coined from Hokkien, in Indonesia: “GuÄ“”.

Sinda – (classical, northen slang “I”), to pair with “sira”.

Patik – “saya”, said by ordinary person to a sultan/sultanah.

Hamba – literally means ‘slave’, mainly in classical literature, it shows humbleness.

1st person plural pronouns:

Kami – “we”, plural of “I”, listener excluded.

Kita – “we”, “you + I”, “you all + I”, listener(s) included.

Kema – “kami/kita”, in Perak.

SÄ“pa – “kami”, in Kedah/Penang.

Iboq – “kami” in Semang (an aborigine tribe in Pahang/Terengganu).

Manira – classical “kami/kita”, probably from Sanskrit.

Kita orang or simply kitorang – informal, broken, very common, daily speech. Not used in Indonesia/Brunei.

2nd person pronouns:

Awak (plural awak semua*) – the common word, pairs with “saya”, not used in Indonesia, though. (* semua means “all”, this word is added to make a plural “you”.)

Engkau/Kau – sounds rude if speaker is not close to listener. Pairs with “aku”.

Kamu (plural kamu semua) – another common word, more formal, higher level (teacher, parents, older, boss) to lower level (students, kids, younger, employer) — there’s a sense of superiority of the speaker, Indonesian Malay doesn’t have “awak”, some Kelantanese/Terengganu people think it sounds rather rude, especially if the listener is older. Ironically, they use the shorter form “mu” to pair with “ambo”. Again, don’t mix up the pairs!

Anda (plural anda semua) – formal or polite form of “you”.

Saudara – “you”, polite, formal, addressed to a male stranger on the street when you want to ask for directions, shops, seminars, etc. Literally, it means “brother”, also used in informal letters.

Saudari – feminine form of “saudara”.

DÄ“mo – “kamu”, in Kelantan.

Sira – “anda”, classical, in northern states, pairs with “sinda”.

Mika – “engkau”, in Perak, used between close conversants, or older to younger, higher level to lower.

Kome/KomÄ“ – “kamu” in Perak, informal. Usually said by a superior speaker.

Hang – “engkau”, in Perlis/Kedah. “Hangpa” = “kamu semua” (plural).

CÄ“k – “kamu” in Penang, used by older speaker to a younger listener.

KoÄ“ – “awak”, in Indonesia.

Kitak (plural kitak semuak) – “awak” in Sarawak.

Ä’kau – “engkau” in Minangkabau slang, pairs with “dÄ“n”.

Anta – “kamu”, from Arabic, for a male listener. Pairs with “ana”.

Anti – feminine form of “anta”.

Mung – “kamu”, in Terengganu.

Tuan hamba – literally means ‘master of slave’, mainly in classical literature, it shows greatness, pairs with “hamba”.

Kalian – plural form of “anda” in Indonesia.

Lu - “awak/kau”, coined from Hokkien; in Indonesia: “Loh”.

Kau orang or simply korang – informal, broken, very common, daily speech (plural). Not used in Indonesia/Brunei.

Encik – “Mr.”, formal.

Puan – “Mrs.”, (in Malaysia/Brunei), formal, polite. Don’t use the husband’s name, she’s not “Puan Jordan” but “Puan Leen” (using her own name).

Nyonya – “Mrs.”, especially in Penang, Melaka, and Singapore during pre-independence time, now only used in Indonesia, especially if she is of Chinese decent. “Nyonya Mansur” doesn’t mean Mansur is a she-male! It’s her husband’s name.

Ibu – this doesn’t mean you’re calling another woman “mom”! It’s the equivalent of “Puan” in Indonesia. “Ibu Leen” = Madam Leen.

Cik – “Miss”, in Malaysia.

Nona – “Cik” in Indonesia.

Tuan – literally means “master”. Equivalent to “Mr.”, usually addressed to someone who has performed his pilgrimage to Mecca, eg: Tuan Haji Jordan (pairs with Puan Hajjah Mazleen) (***Jordan’s note: InshAllah!), also means “Sir”, especially to police officer, judge, eg: “Tuan Inspektor”, “Tuan Hakim”, “Tuan Doktor” (this even includes a female judge or doctor!). In that case, it means “Lady/madam” to show respect/status/higher rank. In classical Malay, “Tuan Puteri” (My Lady Princess). Not “Puan Puteri” or “Cik Puteri”.

Bapak – literally means “father”, used in Indonesia. Equivalent to Malaysians’ “Encik/Tuan”, excluding “Tuan Puteri/Doktor”. Eg: “Bapak Polisi”, “Bapak Jordan”. Male only.

Abang – “elder brother”, to a stranger on the street, at a warong, shops, campus. In Malaysia only.

(Kang) Mas – “abang” in Javanese, Indonesia.

Kakak/Kak – “elder sister” in Malaysia, also “abang/kakang” in Indonesia.

KakÄ“k – “grandpa”, in Indonesia.

Adik – “younger brother/sister”, in Malaysia.

Makcik – “Aunty”, in Malaysia.

Pakcik – “Uncle”, in Malaysia.

Tanter – “Aunty”, in Indonesia.

Om – “Uncle”, in Indonesia.

3rd person pronouns:

Dia – “He/She”

Ia – “He/She/It”

DÄ“me – “They” in Northern dialect.

Nya – “He/She” in Sarawak. “Nya orang” for plural.

MerÄ“ka – “They”

Dia orang – or simply diorang – informal, broken, very common, daily speech (plural). Not used in Indonesia/Brunei.

There you go, a comprehensive list of pronouns in Malay. I made it like ages ago while dreaming that one day I would have my own blog writing this kind of stuff, but I admit it, I do have one now, but I am too lazy to maintain it and this list would be a waste of the time I had killed if I don’t share it with others. I figured that Jordan’s blog would be a good place to put it since he’s really consistent in maintaining his blog, plus… he’s quite a celeb among the readers! It’s a little contribution I can make to his blog.

I know this is really confusing for foreign learners. For us Malays, “saya-awak” is the safest combination you can use, and is commonly used by children at school — sounds like squarepants — thus most of us use “I”, “you”, “you all”, “we all”. I thought “we” already was plural! It’s a shame, I know. Jordan was right about “awak” being a nasty choice when talking to someone older. It’s most suitable for someone in the same level, husband and wife, friends that are not so close. To the children, you can use “kamu” instead. You won’t have much problem like this in Indonesia, but in Malaysia, I suppose you can try using “pakcik” (uncle) and “makcik” (aunty) when talking to someone old enough to be your parents, or just “abang” or “akak” to someone who is old but not old enough to be your parents. Confused? Heck, me too!

If you’re in Malaysia or Singapore, I suggest that you just use “saya-anda”, but never “saya-engkau” or “aku-awak”. “Aku-kamu” sounds a bit weird in Malaysia but this pair is valid in Indonesia. Nevertheless “saya-kamu” is more recommendable to use in Indonesia. I’m not quite familiar with the custom in Brunei but I suppose “saya-anda” is the best to use.

“Cik” (pronounce “cÄ“k”) is also informally used to address any woman, married or not, usually among themselves. E.g.: “Cik Tipah”, “Cik Kiah”, “Cik Bedah”. It’s like “Ms.” in English. Previously spelled as “ChÄ“”

Disclaimer: I made this list from what I know and observe, and also by asking native speakers from each state (excluding Sabah because I could not contact any friend from there). My main reference is the Kamus Dewan 3rd Edition. If there’s any mistake, or changes/addition you think is good, please don’t hesitate to share.

28 thoughts on “Nizar’s List of Malay Pronouns

  1. Umm-fi-ard says:

    Syabas! Bagus sekali senarai ini. Tapi bagaimana dgn ganti nama di dalam bahasa persuratan spt anakanda, adinda (dinda), nenekanda (ninda), kekanda (kanda) dan datuk(atok??) yang selalu digunakan di dalam tulisan persuratan dan juga ditutur di dlm wayang Melayu lama? Adakah ia masih dipelajari oleh kanak-kanak sekolah zaman sekarang ataupun ia sudah lupus ditelan zaman?
    Satu hal lagi, ganti nama kedua “awak” boleh disingkatkan lagi menjadi “wak”. Contohnya, “Eh wak, wak tak makan ke wak?” Selalunya cara percakapan ini dipraktikkan oleh kanak-kanak sekolah. Saya tahu kerna saya sudah melalui alam itu dan tidak mahu kembali lagi kpdnya. (teehe)
    JM2$ :)

  2. T-Boy says:

    You missed out “dÄ“pa”, I think. Kedah, third person plural.

  3. Jordan says:

    Umm-fi-Ard: Good question! I’m just going to assume they were excluded because they’re not really used (which means I’ll have to assume all the pronouns in the list are in use).

    As for wak, that one is interesting. I do know people who are called wak, but in their case it means uncle, and I believe it’s Javanese (like my wife’s uncle Wak Jo). I wasn’t aware of the shortening of ‘awak’ by kids. Interesting!

    T-Boy: I beat you to that one (look at my 2nd paragraph). By the way, I’m working on that ’50 Posts to Independence’ thing. It’s a rush job, but I hope it’ll make sense.

  4. T-Boy says:

    Umm-Fi-Ard: Well, my wife and I use “dinda” and “kanda” on each other. It’s used in humor for the both of us, and as a term of endearment (before we married, my wife would call me adinda, because she was the older partner, but now the tables are turned! Bwah-ha-ha!).

    Also, be careful with “Wak”: that’s an “Pak Cik” and “Mak Cik” equivalent, used by the Javanese. You call someone a “Wak” when they’re older than you and Javanese, or if they’re Indonesian and older than you.

  5. UmmLuqman says:

    If I may add,

    Nyong – saya
    Siro – awak , in Jawa (Perak mostly), AND sad to say all the ‘bahasa persuratan’ are not properly taught at school nowadays.
    Also plural of mike (Perak for awak) is mike me (y’all) and another form of kami is keme.

  6. Jordan says:

    See? Here come the pronouns! Bring ‘em on, people!

  7. Nizar says:

    I spelled “mike” as “mika”, as listed in Kamus Dewan, and “siro” as “sira”. I do realize though that in Perak accent, the “a” at the end of the word is pronounced as “e” (usually e taling), meanwhile in Johor-Riau accent, it’s pronounced as “e” (pepet). In Javanese, it’s changed to “o”. Thus we may not recognize the original spelling. I included both in the list.

    As for “Nyong”, I’ll add that to my list. Did I forget to include “dÄ“pa” in my 4th edit, Jordan?

    I also thought about “adinda” and “kakanda”, but then I would have to include the rest of the “-nda” which are not frequently used or I thought perhaps they were not really pronouns (except for these two). “Adinda” (royal/literature word for “Adik”), and “Kakanda” (or simply “Kanda”, mispelled as “Kekanda”) for “Kakak/Abang” – are also used between lovers or husband and wife, in love letters (whoever writes love letters nowadays? Everyone is using sms with “u” and “I”!).

    For knowledge’s sake, here’s the full listing of the royal/literature (pronouns?) words:

    Ibunda (also spelled Bonda) – mother
    Ayahanda – father
    Nenda (also spelled Ninda) – grandpa/grandma
    Kakanda (or simply kanda) – big brother/sister,
    Adinda (or simply Dinda) – baby brother/sister,
    Cucunda – grandchild
    Cicinda?? – for great-grandchild,
    does this word exist?
    *I don’t have my Kamus
    Dewan with me right

  8. UmmLuqman says:

    Oh! Forgot to add,

    kang – abang
    mbak – kakak , also in JAWA
    bik/bibik – aunt who are younger than our parents and wak for the ones older than them.

  9. Nizar says:

    Thanx for the credits, btw. You forgot to mention ‘the handsome guy from Muar, single and available”.
    Where did you throw the color and the tabs? Hehe lebih2 pulak…

  10. Jordan says:

    I’d also forgotten about Bibik, which is silly of me because of all Leen’s aunts (there are plenty)the one we’re closest to is Bibik.

    Speaking of Bonda, right next to Bibik’s place in Kampung Melayu Subang is a little place that supposedly sells the best lemang around, and it’s called Lemang Bonda. I always wondered who Bonda was, and then Leen told me it meant mother or something. Now I know.

    You forgot to mention ‘the handsome guy from Muar, single and available”.
    Where did you throw the color and the tabs? Hehe lebih2 pulak…

    Ooops…how could I have forgotten that? Well, the colours and things were intentionally left out, since I have absolutely no idea how to do that in WordPress. And the tabs were all screwed up after I did my copy-and-paste.

  11. marinadelrey says:

    there’s a Brunei pronoun, used in the 3rd person: AWDA… (a combination of Awak and Anda?) i think…

  12. Nizar says:

    Umm-fi-ard: Waduh waduh! Bukan main baku sekali bahasanya. “Keme” dan “Mike me” disebut bagaimana? Yang mana satu e pepet/taling? Saya fikir sangat wajar sekali dihidupkan semula perbezaan e pepet/taling dalam penulisan. Cuma perlu ditambah satu baris di atas, masalah membezakan e pepet/taling tentu senang diatasi terutama oleh mereka yang belajar Bahasa Melayu.

    Mbak (Umm), iso ngomong Jowo?
    Cuba terjemahkan ayat ini:

    “Niat insun mata kaji Smar ngisÄ“ng”
    “Prampong ngisÄ“ng Smar tilem”

    A friend of mine (Javanese) used to tell me it means
    something like this:

    “After eating Smar (a classical Javanese name) excrete”
    “After shitting Smar sleeps”,

    And these sentences were used by P Ramlee in Ali baba Bujang Lapok (and the 40 thieves). The former to open the door of the cave, the latter to close it.

    Is that what they really mean?
    I really can’t (or don’t want to) imagine why he used them and what’s eating/shitting to do with ‘open the door’? Eewwww

    P/S: In Turkish version of the movie, they say
    “Açık susam açık” (Open sesame)
    “Kapan susam kapan” (Close sesame)

    In Spanish: Sésamo abierto del
    Cierre del sésamo

    In French: Sésame ouvert
    De fin de sésame

    In German: geöffneter Sesam
    ende indischer Sesam

    In Thai?: Krap prak prik pong cat mayyy kaaapp
    Haha any volunteer?

  13. UmmLuqman says:

    MIke, keme kome, mikeme all use e pepet.

    Nyong orak ngerti ngomong Jowo….

    Sorry am not able to directly translate yhr phrse for you Nizar but I do know that ngiseng is as what you said.

    Wish I could speak all the Languages in the world!!! It’s so cool to be able to speak at least 3 or 4 languages right?

  14. Aida says:

    kamek – “me”
    kitak – “you”
    both are in swkian malay.

  15. Umm-fi-ard says:

    Daku keliru sebentar tadi… Dengan siapa saudara Nizar mahu berbicara? Gerangan siapa?? Saya lain, diya lain. Daku dikenali sebagai “Umm-fi-Ard” (ataupun dialih bahasa dari bahasa arab kpd bahasa melayu iaitu Bonda-di-bumi). Tapi tidak mengapa, kalian sudahpun membicarakannya dan persoalannya sudahpun terjawab!

  16. Nizar says:

    It was meant for u Umm-fil-Ard.

    “Daku” (I) is not used the way you used it. Thanx for mentioning it anyways. It’s supposed to be used as an object preceded by a preposition ended with an ‘n’ (“dengan” or “akan”, but not “dan”). It pairs with “dikau” (you). I only hear them in songs, sounds like soliloquizing.

  17. Umm-fi-ard says:

    Terima kasih kerana menerangkannya. Semahunya saya mahu memberi contoh dengan lagu kegemaran oleh generasi muda kita tetapi saya tidak tahu lagu Melayu popular yang terbaru. Ataupun lagu kegemaran oleh penduduk serumpun kita di seberang Laut Cina Selatan/Selat Melaka nun disana. Contohnya lagu nyanyian klasik seniman Broery Marantika tetapi saya tidak juga ingat lirik lagu “beliau” pada masa kini.

  18. Nizar says:

    LOL haha
    Yeah… thank you for that!

    “Beliau” means ‘he/she’ (human only) that is well-respected – leaders, authors, or someone who you think deserves a public respect. Not to be used for criminals.
    Also, “baginda” – (he/she … usually ‘he’) for the Prophets and kings.

    I’m just wondering where exactly are you from Umm-fi-Ard?

  19. [...] I don’t quite know how to play around with colors in WordPress. I asked for Jordan’s courtesy to post PART I on his blog, even though he insisted that I put it here because it’s my work. I just thought I was too lazy (well, I am!) to consistently update my blog. When I gave the document to Jordan, I highlighted some words red but it was all gone when pasted on WordPress, so I decided this time I’d better handwrite my article to give it a more original look and personal touch. But that’s not all, I also wanted to see how good I can write with pens and papers nowadays since I changed to using keyboards after leaving high-school in 1996. Hopefully, you won’t be getting headache while reading my handwriting. So, here’s something I’d like to share with you. [...]

  20. Nizar says:

    I’ve posted PART II on my blog under ‘Language’ category.

    There’s something I need to tell here though. If you read any tafseer of the Quran, you’ll notice the verses are literally translated from Arabic. Thus when Allah refers to Himself, He always uses “Kami” while in Islam, we believe in unity of God.

    “Kami” in tafseer doesn’t mean there are more than 1 God but it’s something to do with being Superior.

    Using plural as a polite form or a means to emphasize greatness is usual in certain languages such as Turkish, Persian, and Arabic.

    For instances, the Turks say “sÄ“n” (for singular “you”), but when they want to show politeness or emphasize greatness/superiority, they say “siz” (plural “you”, used as singular). I think it’s “shoma” in Persian.

    In “Assalaamu alaikum” – “kum” is plural “you”, but (most) Muslims always use this form of greeting, to one person or many.

  21. mardia says:

    Thank you for this list. I am a part-time translator and I am interested in postings on languages (besides all other categoreis, of course, esp Alisdair:-). I will update my translator group Teraju about this.

    Btw, can I add ‘Tuanku’ to address the royals ? or did I miss it?

    Keep up the good work.


  22. Nizar says:

    Oh, yes… I’m so not from a royal blood. Tuanku is ‘Your highness’ for both King/prince and Queen/princess.

  23. naeboo says:

    somehow i remember learning that “AKU” is the formal way of addressing yourself in school. as with “ENGKAU” and “ANDA” they are also formal.

  24. Nizar says:

    Another update:

    ‘Koi’ – saya/aku in Pahang (especially Temerloh and Pekan)

  25. Liyana says:

    In Brunei I = kediaku (informal). There’s a list of ” I” pronoun when addressing higher ranking people.

    You = kita/ abiskita (for someone older than you) or “kamu” between friends or people you are comfortable with.

    As pointed out the lists of pronouns in Malay are “infinite”.

  26. mutalib saifuddin says:

    puan jordan! my father used to get a ‘thank you’ card from an australian, and the wish started with “Dear Puan”.

  27. In two decades ago,nobody knows Malaysia but now people all over the world know that country and it’s development.In Malaysia most of the people talk in Malay language.The whole nation try to prove themselves under a leader like Mohathir Mohammad and they could finally change their fate.Now they arrive in such level of position that their child that means next generation can be well educated like Europe and America.In this regard they took the opportunity to use the dictionary that will help to exchange Malay language from English.

  28. Sutan Rizal Datuk Rajo Di Hilie says:

    Eh Indonesia juga menggunakan kata awak tapi merujuk kepada kata saya. Didaerah saya Sumatra Barat , Awak artinya kita atau saya. Di Provinsi Jambi, Sumatera Barat, Riau , Deli dan Langkat menggunakan kata awak untuk saya.

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