Polite Indonesian Phrases – Examples and Meaning

Beside learning general vocabulary, we should also know the polite Indonesian phrases that would help you to communicate. Who want to be misunderstood just because they’re considered as disrespectful just because language barrier. Therefore, learning Indonesian formal language is as important as learning daily life vocabulary. Let’s take a look the list of Indonesian phrases that would considered as polite and full of respect.

Title and Formal Pronouns

In terms of learning the key of polite Indonesian phrase is know the culture. On of it is about title. Unlike English, you should not call someone (especially older one and well-respected, such as president, hero as well as your boss) only by their names. But, you should added title for it. In addition, Indonesian has different name system with other country commonly used. If others has the formation given name + (middle name) + family name, in Indonesia it is completely different.

The first name is not always a given name (it could be place anywhere), as the last name is not always your family name. Therefore, you would find siblings with different last name. Instead, many people only has single name (e.g. Indonesian first president, Soekarno). Therefore, the title is usually used like this: title + first name/given name/nickname (e.g. Indonesian recent president is called Pak Jokowi (Mr. Jokowi), instead of Pak Widodo [which is his last name]). In addition, in some communication, to show your politeness you should use the correct and formal pronouns

  • Bapak/Pak = Sir/Mr.
  • Ibu/Bu = Mam/Madam/Mrs./Ms.
  • Mas = same with ‘Bapak’ but much younger
  • Mbak = same with ‘Ibu’ but much younger
  • Saya = formal ‘I’
  • Anda = formal ‘you’
  • Beliau = formal ‘he/she’ (use for respected person such as president, hero or teacher)
  • Saudara = formal ‘you’ or Ladies and Gentleman

Indonesian Greetings and Sacred Words

Other sacred communication etiquette in Bahasa Indonesia to show your politeness is the greetings. On the other words, you should understand hello and goodbye. In addition, there are also some ‘magical’ words you are recommend to use to open or end an conversation. Take a look.

  • Maaf = Sorry
  • Tolong = Please
  • Terima kasih = Thank you
  • Permisi = Excuse, me
  • Selamat pagi = Good morning
  • Selamat siang = Good afternoon
  • Selamat sore = Good evening
  • Selamat malam = Good evening
  • Apa kabar? = What’s up?
  • Sudah makan? = Have you eat?

For the last two phrases (‘apa kabar?’ or ‘sudah makan’), it does not mean that the person really ask you a questions. It is just common ways of people to open a conversation. Therefore, the situation would be more warm. It is similar with English ‘What’s up’ or Joey Tribbiani’s  ‘how you doin’?’ that not really ask for an answer. 

Indonesian Taboo Words

How about some words that is considered taboo? Instead of using the word, people usually has the way to implied it. It’s like censored with other choice of word. On the other hand, there’s also different word that refer a meaning. So, you need to know the sense of each word.

  • Die/dead
    There’s many way to say die/dead. But, some is more harsh than others. The Indonesian polite phrase for this taboo words are ‘meninggal dunia/meninggal’, ‘berpulang’ (literally means ‘go back home’), ‘dipanggil’ (literally means ‘called’ (by God)), ‘wafat’. DO NOT use ‘tewas’ (because it is mostly used for murdered/car accident victim’ or ‘mangkat’
  • Maid
    Recently the terms maid is translated as asisten rumah tangga (house assistant) to become more polite than the older terms such as ‘pembantu’, ‘budak’, ‘babu’, ‘jongos’ that implied ‘slavery meaning’.
  • Prostitute
    Mostly, people use the terms ‘wanita tuna susila’ or ‘pekerja seks komersial’ as less harsh word to call prostitute
  • Pee, poop and toilet
    Most people would say ‘ke belakang’ (to the back) if they need to go to the toilet (either peeing or pooping). In addition, the more polite phrase to it is ‘buang air kecil’ (which means throw small water) for ‘pee’ and ‘buang air besar’ (which means throw big water) for ‘poop’
  • Having sex
    Because discussing sex is a little bit taboo, sometimes it is implied as ‘berhubungan badan’ (which literally means do a link through bodies) 
  • Menstruation
    How to say it with less harsh word? It is called ‘datang bulan’ (coming month) that means its the period of menstruation
  • Sanitary napkins
    There is a funny phrases of it. You could say it ‘pembalut’ (which means ‘bandage’) or ‘roti jepang’ (Japanase bread)
  • Age
    Age is sensitive to many, right? Instead of saying ‘tua’ (old), people is change it to terms like ‘dewasa’ (mature) or ‘berumur’ (which more polite than ‘tua’)

Use the word ‘Less’

What about adjective? Here’s the way to say an easy polite Indonesian phrases. You could use some terms, such as ‘kurang’ (less), tidak begitu/tidak terlalu (not really) or ‘agak/sedikit’ (a little bit). In example, instead of say ‘poor’, people would say ‘less fortunate’. Similar in Indonesia, instead of say ‘miskin’ (poor), they would say ‘kurang beruntung’ (less fortunate).

Instead of say, ‘jelek’ (bad), people would say ‘tidak terlalu baik’ (not really good). Instead of say ‘pendek’ (short) people would say ‘agak pendek’ (a little bit short) or ‘agak kurang tinggi’ (not to high).

Indonesian polite phrases is a about choice of words. Therefore, master as much vocabulary as you can as well as idiomatic expressions in Bahasa Indonesia.