Passive voice in bahasa Indonesia

Posted by David Khoirul

passive voiceWhat distinguishes Indonesians from Americans is the voice of their sentences. People in Indonesia tend to write and talk in passive voice, putting the subject at the end of the sentence.

In many books on writing craft, writers are encouraged to avoid passive voice because it weakens the sentence and creates unconciseness. Passive construction makes for dull writing, and every writer agrees with the concept, except Indonesians.

Culturally, modesty is the virtue in Indonesia. Indonesians tend to avoid making blunt negative statements, such as "Adikmu membunuh kucing sepulang sekolah." To hide the subject adikmu and emphasize the object kucing, Indonesians prefer saying, "Kucingnya dibunuh adikmu sepulang sekolah."

Passive voice is quite easy to detect. In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position.

Example:

  • Ahnan mencintai Farida (Ahnan loves Farida [active voice])
  • Farida dicintai Ahnan (Farida is loved by Ahnan [passive voice])

See the subject in the second sentene. It becomes Farida, and she is not doing anything. Rather, she is just the receipent of Ahnan's love.

Although the example above -- Ahnan mencintai Farida -- is best written in active voice, other expressions such as Tolong lihatlah ponselnnya (Please check your phone) are more likely to be suitable with passive form: Tolong ponselnya dilihat (Please your phone be checked). Tim Hassal, a linguist who teaches Indonesian at Australian National University, gives some good examples on how Indonesians use passive construction, especially when they're trying to make their commands sound polite by adding tolong:

  • Mbak, tolong kamarnya dibersihkan nanti ya (Mbak, please the room be cleaned later, yes)
  • Pak, tolong dikasih tahu ya kalau sudah sampai di Jalan Kartini (Pak, please I be told, yes, when we get to Jalan Kartini)
  • Pintunya ditutup ya (The door be closed, yes)

Notice how he added the prefix di to the verbs. Changing the active into passive voice requires the transformation of the verbs, the addition of di, the placement of the subject and object. In English, besides moving the subject and object to a different position, to make a sentence passive, people add tobe verbs (is, am, are) and past participles. Bahasa Indonesia is simpler, though. We don't have tobe verbs; we only need to move the subject and objects (if available), and add the prefix di to the verbs.

Is it understood by you now? Oops, I mean, do you understand now?

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