12 Basic Malay Pronouns You Should Learn

malay pronouns

Pronouns are words that replace nouns to avoid repetition and carry a great deal of meaning and significance. This is one of the first lessons you should study to master Malay.

Malay pronouns are an essential part of the Malay language, reflecting the culture and society of Malaysia. From formal to informal, singular to plural, Malay pronouns offer a rich and nuanced way of expressing oneself.

If you understand and start using these pronouns in Malay correctly in your daily life conversations, you will be able to create more effective communications with native speakers.

So, let’s explore the pronouns you should learn in Malay to discover this fascinating aspect of the language.

What Are The Malay Pronouns? + Examples To Practice

In the first lesson, we will introduce you to Malay personal pronouns. Similar to English, Bahasa Malaysia has its own first-person pronouns, second-person pronouns, and third-person pronouns. Let’s see how these pronouns look like.

1. Malay Personal Pronouns: First-Person Pronouns

These are the first category of personal pronouns in Malay, known as kata ganti diri pertama:

  1. Saya = I
  2. Aku = I (informal)
  3. Kami = We/Us
  4. Kita = We/Us

Saya is the most widely used pronoun in Malaysia, aside from aku. Both singular pronouns mean “I” in English. However, they differ when it comes to its usage; saya is mostly used in a formal context while aku is commonly used in an informal setting.

If you’re newly enrolled in a school, laid a job in Malaysia, or contacted by any Malaysian customer services, it is most appropriate for you to use saya. Typically, Malaysians use saya with strangers, superiors, authorities, and the elderly. It connotes a sense of courtesy, politeness, and diplomacy. Still, you have the liberty to choose whatever pronoun you’d like – there are those who use saya on a daily basis when referring to themselves and that is totally fine!

Yet, if you and a local are closely acquainted, feel free to use aku casually. To some, aku may sound harsh or impolite but it’s not always the case. In the Southeast Asian country, it’s commonly used by those who are of the same age. The locals also use it with their best buddies – those with who they are close and comfortable. If you work in Malaysia, you’ll notice how most of the local colleagues use this particular pronoun, especially among men.

malay pronouns first person me in malay

The meaning of kami and kita is us. Identical to the English pronouns, both of these pronouns refer to ‘we’ and ‘us’. Kami and kita can be adopted in both formal and informal settings. Habitually, the word kita sometimes is used by the locals to refer to themselves – the speaker. Rather than saying saya, sometimes a Malaysian say kita instead (mostly practised by girls as it asserts a sense of softness and tenderness).

Saya suka minum kopi. I like to drink coffee.
Aku perlukan bantuan kau. I need your help.
Kami akan cuba sedaya upaya untuk membantu. We will try our best to help.
Kita mesti cari jalan! We must find a way!
Kita rasa soalan ni susah. I think this question is difficult.

Examples of Malay first-person pronouns

2. Malay Personal Pronouns: Second-Person Pronouns

These are the second category of personal pronouns in Malay, known as kata ganti diri kedua:

  1. Kamu = You
  2. Awak = You
  3. Anda = You
  4. Kau = You (informal)
  5. Kalian = You (plural)

Let’s dive into the first 4 pronouns first; kamu, awak, and, and kau – all these mean “you” in English. So, which one should you choose? Don’t worry if you get confused – today, I’m your savior and I’ll clarify which one should you opt for in different settings.

Kamu, awak and anda are a more standard way of saying “you”. These are best used in formal circumstances. In Malaysia, kamu are used generally to refer to “you” while awak has opted if people want to sound a little bit more polite. Usually, men will use awak to address women and girls (especially on first encounters) to sound gentle.

Awak is also widely by girls to address their female friends. The pronoun anda, on the contrary, is rarely used in the Malaysian spoken context. You’ll only hear or see the word anda on TV ads, copywriting, and marketing campaigns.

So, unless you market products and services in Bahasa Melayu, try your best to avoid using anda in addressing Malaysians.

learn to speak in malay

Kau is mostly used informally (short for engkau). It is the exact opposite of aku. So, all connotations of aku apply to the pronoun kau as well. It’s typically regarded as a bit discourteous to some so you must not address anyone with power, high social status, or those older than you with such a pronoun. Only say kau to address your closest friends, families, and colleagues.

Kalian, as you’ve known, is used to refer to a group of people you’re addressing. In a way, it’s fair to say that kalian is the plural form of kamu. You can address your interlocutors using kalian only if you’re in a formal setting.

Sometimes, it is often the case where native Malay speakers say “kamu semua” (where kamu means you and semua means all) in addressing their interlocutors formally, instead of using kalian.

How to address people casually then? Well, the pronouns used do not exist in the Malay dictionary but these words do exist in the  Malay spoken context. To address two persons (or more) directly, a Malaysian usually addresses them as “korang“, which is a fusion of kau (you) and orang (people).

Let’s look at some examples of the usage of kamu, awak, anda, kau, and kalian.

Kamu perlu ubah jawapan kamu ni. You need to change your answer.
Awak ada di mana sekarang? Where are you now?
Anda adalah pemenang bertuah! You are a lucky winner!
Kau nak pergi mana? Where are you going?
Kalian perlu mengisi borang ini. All of you need to fill in this form

3. Malay Personal Pronouns: Third-person pronouns

pronouns in malay third person

These are the third category of personal pronouns in Malay, known as kata ganti diri ketiga:

  1. Dia = He/She
  2. Beliau = He/She
  3. Mereka = They

Unlike English, you only need to know the word dia to refer to someone. The pronoun dia (sounds exactly like the English word ‘dear’) is used to refer to someone; a person who’s the subject of your discussion.

In Bahasa Melayu, the pronoun referring to a person indirectly does not associate one’s gender. That’s right, Malay doesn’t have gender pronouns. So, dia can either be a female or a male, depending on the context.

In a sense, it’s a great feature as it backgrounds the real identity of the subject matter, especially if someone else is trying to eavesdrop on your conversation! This particular pronoun is fundamental – it’s the one you would use daily.

But then, if you want to make references to a person whom you look up to, respect, and admire, you regard him using beliau rather than dia.

In Malay, beliau opts whenever you want to refer to a highly regarded, reputable subject; a prominent name with some sort of significant contribution. It is often used to allude to someone older too, who possesses higher authority than you and this pronoun is much used in the formal context.

What if your subject is more than one? What’s the pronoun to regard these non-singular group of persons? The word ‘they’ in Malaysia is called mereka. It’s mostly used in formal texts and occasions. In a casual manner, however, the locals would opt for “diorang” which is a combination of dia (he/she) and orang (people).

So, if you want to imitate the spoken practice of Malaysians, you can say diorang rather than mereka in making references to others.

Mereka menggeledah bilik baru itu dengan teliti.They search for the new room thoroughly.
Dia ialah kawan lama saya.He/She is my old friend.
Beliau merupakan penulis terkenal di Indonesia.He/She is a famous writer in Indonesia

Other Important Malay Pronouns

Demonstrative Pronouns

There are 2 most significant pronouns in Malay opted to point or allude to a certain object. The pointing words are ini (this) and itu (that). Let’s see some examples of how they’re used:

Ini buku saya.This is my book.
Beg itu mahal.That bag is expensive.

Interrogative Pronouns

The interrogative pronouns share a similar nature as the Malay interrogative questions. In essence, the words of interrogative pronouns are siapa (who), mana (where), bila (when), kenapa (why), apa (what) and bagaimana (how). Check out the lessons for an in-depth explanation of how interrogatives work in Malay language.


Find Out More About Malay Language

Learning how to address people accurately in the Malay language could make you noticeable among the Malay speakers. Yet, if you want to be recognized and approached by the Malaysian community, you need to learn other Malay basic phrases and expressions and try to speak the language.

The Ling app can definitely help you acquire the most important words and key phrases in Malay – it has the best, interactive features that will get you speaking Malay in no time!

Download Ling from App Store or Google Play today.

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