How English influences my Indonesian grammar

Posted by David Khoirul
I have to admit that my bahasa Indonesia, in both writing and speaking, is very much influenced by what I have watched, read and listened in the past ten years. Many of my sentence structures in verbal and oral communication sound very like English. And for some readers, it may be awkward, yet the sentences--as I always strive--remain clear to read.

For your information, 80% of my readings come from English texts, from blogs and Websites written in English, from books and newspapers published in the International language.

I exploit the usage of sentence beginnings, using verbs in past (with ed) and present (with ing) participle forms, which, in ancient Malay/Indonesan, did not normally occur. The use of "it" as a pronoun is also my favorite. Sometimes when I need to create a complex sentence, I apply the [noun + which + noun + verb] structure which may produce a different tone for Indonesian ears.

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English influence indonesian grammar

Present participle

Reading Indonesian popular magazines and newspapers, I see many journalists write in this structure. Did you notice I just created a sentence starting with present participle? Here is another example:

Berjalan ke gunung Bromo, ia mulai merasa dingin.
Duduk di taman, ia menanti kekasihnya.


While bahasa Indonesia does not have this type of sentence, modern Indonesian writers and bloggers use it in their writings. Formerly, instead of starting sentences with the verbs duduk and berjalan, ancient Indonesian writers would write the following sentences:

Ia berjalan ke gunung Bromo dan mulai merasa dingin.
Ia duduk di taman dan menunggu kekasihnya.


Educated people, being influenced by the grammar of English, utilize the structure to better convey their message, or  to explain in a more stylistic language.

Walking to mount Bromo, he started to feel cold.
Sitting in the park, he was waiting for his girlfriend.


Past participle

Another common way to start a sentence in English is by using verbs in past participle form, such as kicked, loved, broken, and disappointed. See the following example:

Located in East Java, Lamongan is...


English speaking people write using this structure a lot in their books, novels and many publications. Try reading Daily Mail or The New York Times and you will know what I mean. This sentence type has been adopted by Indonesian writers and journalists.

Terletak di Jawa Timur, Lamongan merupakan...


In the past people would write:

Lamongan terletak di Jawa Timur dan merupakan...


"It" as a pronoun

In my Bahasa Indonesia blog, I write the word "ia" frequently to refer to not only humans but also buildings, animals, vehicles, institutions, etc. This is the influence I got from reading many English books and articles. See this:

Bahasa Indonesia adalah bahasa Nasional kita. Ia memiliki...
Bahasa Indonesia is our National language. It has...


Relative clause (Noun + Verb)

Usually Indonesians use passive verbs when they write complex sentences, like in the following:

Blog yang akan ia kunjungi...
Artikel yang bisa ia tulis...

Blogs which he will visit...
Articles which he can write...


The word akan (will) and bisa (can) are in the position right before the subject ia (he). This creates a sense of passiveness -- "visited by him" or "written by him." However I found some writers write in a structure, which is considered unusual in Bahasa Indonesia, adding the touch of English by trying to imitate the English noun+verb pattern:

Blog yang ia akan kunjungi...
Artikel yang ia bisa tulis...


The conclusion: All the above English structures, when applied wisely to Indonesian writings, can add power and clarity, and also gives voice to your piece. It sounds weird for the first time, but once your ears get used to it, it will become normal and beautiful in its own way. And since this English style of grammar works with my bahasa Indonesia writings, it should also work with yours. Any idea?

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