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.