Indonesian Past Tense – Formula – Examples

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What is one of the main Differences between Indonesian and English Grammar? Yes, you are right! Tenses. In English, you know three types of tenses (past, present, future), including its variation. However, Bahasa Indonesia do not have strict rules in terms of tenses. Therefore, the past, present and future as well as simple, perfect and continuous form is very similar.

Sometimes, without the context, we could only identify the ‘time’ only by Indonesian Adverbs of time or Indonesian Auxiliary Verbs, including this lesson about Indonesian past tense). But, mostly we could not tell the time context of a sentence without understand the context itself. Take a look!

  • Mom is going to the shop (Ibu pergi ke toko) – present continuous
  • Mom goes to the shop (Ibu pergi ke toko) – present simple
  • Mom went to the shop (Ibu pergi ke toko) – past simple
  • Mom was going to the shop (Ibu pergi ke toko) – past continous

See? Those four sentences, although have same form, do not refer the same time reference. Indonesian do not has the ‘V2’ for the past tense. On the other words the verb is never change because the adverb of time. It is only change to refer the active/passive sentence (See Transitive Verbs and Intransitive Verbs).

Therefore, most Indonesian would find difficulties to imagine the time-bound if English sentence. In contrast, it should be easier to English speaker because they should not worry about the ‘time’. It is like use a present simple with optional and correct addition of adverb of time. Moreover, learning about this is very helpful when you do a translation task.

In terms of past tense, here are several words that would make a sentence become the past tense adverbs of time.

  • Kemarin = Yesterday
  • Kemarin …. = Last…
    Example : kemarin malam (last night), kemarin sore (last afternoon)
  • Kemarin dulu = long/several time ago
  • Kemarin lusa = two days ago
  • Kemarinnya lusa = three days ago
  • Dulu = long time ago/several time ago/ (did/was/were)
  • tadi = just now/few times ago/earlier this day
  • … tadi/tadi … = this …. (hads happened)
    Example : pagi tadi (this morning)/tadi pagi (this morning), sore tadi (this afternoon)
  • … lalu/… yang lalu = last…/… day(s) ago
    Example : Senin lalu (Last Monday), seminggu yang lalu (one week ago), tiga hari lalu (three days ago)
  • … ini = this …
    Example = pagi ini (this morning)
    *unlike ‘tadi’ that implied it ‘ surely has happened’, the ‘ini’ could means (1) it has happened or (2) it will happen very soon. Therefore, it could means ‘past’ or even ‘future’. Do not make mistake of identify it!
  • Beberapa waktu yang lalu = Few times ago/several times ago
  • Beberap hari yang lalu = Few days ago
  • Pada … = in…
    Example : Pada masa penjajahan (pre-independence era), pada 1988 (in 1988), pada tahun 2000 (in 2000)
  • sebelumnya = previously

Further readings: Time in Bahasa Indonesia and Indonesian to English Grammar

Here are how to implement it in a past simple sentence!

  • Kemarin saya menonton bola = Yesterday, I watched a football match
  • Ia belum makan kemarin malam = He did not eat last night
  • Saya bertemu dengannya kemarin dulu = I met him several times ago
  • Dulu saya seorang penari = I was a dancer (long time ago)
  • Ia berangkat tadi pagi = He went this morning
  • Dia menyelesaikan tugas pada Rabu lalu = She finished her task at last Wednesday
  • Pagi ini ibu memasak = Mom cooked this morning
  • Beberapa waktu yang lalu seseorang datang ke rumah saya = Few times ago, a person came to my house
  • Pada masa penjajahan masyarakat Indonesia amat miskin = In the colonialism era, Indonesian people were very poor
  • Tiga belas hari yang lalu Ani sakit = Thirteen days ago, Ani was sick
  • Tadi Ani datang memberikan undang = Earlier this day, Ani delivered an invitation
  • Sebelumnya di Pretty Little Liars, Ali kembali bertemu Cece = Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Ali met Cece again
  • Lili pulang jam 10 tadi = Lili went home at 10 o’clock

To conclude, the adverb of time in English has optional function because we know the situation happened at the past, based on the verb choice. However, because in Indonesian Past Tense there is no verb 2 or different grammar rules in Bahasa Indonesia between past, present and future, the ‘time’ is uncertain. 

The only valid sign of the ‘time’ is the adverb of time (if it is there). In addition, separate a sentence into past simple, past perfect, past continuous and past future also ‘blur’ because now, yesterday and tomorrow, continuous or not use the same verb.

  • He talked yesterday (Dia berbicara kemarin) – past simple
  • He was talking yesterday (Dia berbicara kemarin) – past continuous
  • He talks every seconds (Dia berbicara setiap detik) – present simple
  • He is talking now (Dia berbicara sekarang/Dia sedang berbicara) – present continuous
  • He had gone before you came (Dia sudah pergi sebelum kamu datang) – past perfect
  • He has gone (Dia sudah pergi) – present perfect
  • He would come earlier this morning (Dia akan datang pagi tadi) – past future
  • He will come tomorrow (Dia akan datang besok) – future simple

There are lessons about Indonesian Past Tense. If you could master 16 tenses in English or your native-tongue, I believe it would be easier than Forming Indonesian Words & Using Indonesian Affixes or Indonesian Pronouns, or more complex than Communication Etiquette in Indonesia. Good luck!