Malay Sentence Structure: 3 Tips To Sound Natural

July 13, 2021

As a Malay language learner, it is important to know how to construct simple questions and answers. Learning and speaking Malay would be a hundred times easier if you know the basic Malay sentence structure. This article will show you how to construct simple sentences and questions in Malay and how it is different from English.

Let’s get started!

 

Word Order In Malay

Simple Sentences

The word order for the Malay sentence is Subject + Predicate. The predicate can include both verb and object or an adjective. In other words, it is almost similar to English, which uses the Subject + Verb + Object (SVO) structure; but with a few additions.

For example:

  • Dia membaca buku. - He is reading a book.
  • Adam minum jus. - Adam drinks juice.
  • Perempuan itu cantik. - That lady is beautiful.
  • Tarikh lahir saya adalah pada bulan Mei. - My Birthday is in May.
Subject Predicate
  Verb Object Adjective Prepositional phrase
Dia
he
membaca
is reading
buku
a book
   
Adam
Adam
minum
drinks
jus
juice
   
Perempuan itu
That lady
-
is
  cantik
beautiful
 
Tarikh lahir saya
My birthday
adalah
is
    pada bulan Mei
in May

The first and second sentences follow the English SVO rule, while the other two include an adjective and prepositional phrases.

As observed from the table above, there is a verb to be ‘is’ or ‘adalah’ in the last sentence, but in the previous sentence, there is no verb used. That is because, in Malay, a verb to be (is, was, are) is not needed for adjectives.

Besides that, there is also another difference between Malay and English shown in the table above. In Malay, the description of the subject comes after the subject instead, unlike in English. Hence, why it is inverted in Malay. E.g.,

Subject
Perempuan Lady Itu that
Tarikh lahir Birrthday Saya My
Buku Book dia his/her

Simple Questions

While the sentence structure for questions is a bit tricky, but no worries! For simple questions, just stick to this structure:

  1. Wh-words + subject (+description)
Wh-words Kata Tanya Sentence (Ayat)
How Bagaimana (kah) Bagaimanakah kamu mahu ke sana? How do you want to go there?
What Apa (kah) Apakah di dalam beg itu? What is in that bag?
Who Siapa (kah) Siapakah lelaki itu? Who is that man?
Why Kenapa/mengapa (kah) Mengapakah kamu mengangis? Why are you crying?
Where Di mana (kah) Di manakah stesen bas? Where is the bus top?
When Bila (kah) Bilakah hari lahir kamu? When is your birthday?
How much/how many Berapa (kah) Berapakah harga kek ini? How much is the price of this cake?

As you can see, all the Wh-words or ‘kata tanya’ were given a suffix – kah. The suffix ‘kah’ is usually used to indicate a question and emphasize the Wh-word. So, it would not be a complete sentence without the suffix ‘kah’? The answer is – no. The question is still comprehensible without the suffix, but its use is necessary for the formal Malay language. 

2. SVO word order 

You can simply maintain the SVO word order for non-Wh-questions. This structure is most suited for Yes/No questions. For example:

  • Lily ada di dalam pejabat? - Is Lily in the office?
  • Kamu sudah makan? - Have you eaten?
  • Itu baju kamu? - Is that your shirt?

In Malay, the answers to these types of questions can be yes/no or the same words from the question. Therefore, it cannot be very clear if it is spoken. For instance:

Question: Lily ada di dalam pejabat? - Is Lily in the office?

Answer: Lily ada di dalam pejabat. - Lily is in the office.

So, how do we differentiate between a statement and a question? By using different intonations while speaking. Usually, there will be a rise in intonation on the last word of the sentence.

 

3 Tips About Malay Sentence Structure To Sound Natural In Speaking Malay

3 Tips About Malay Sentence Structure To Sound Natural In Speaking Malay
Malay Sentence Structure

1. Linking Verbs

The use of linking verbs before verbs like ‘sedang’ for present tense or ‘telah’ for past tense.

Linking verbs is not a must in constructing a sentence in Malay. However, for sentences containing verbs, linking verbs are widely used to indicate past, present, or future tense. 

  • The word 'sedang' can be translated to 'is' or 'currently.' So, to construct a sentence with a present tense, it is more natural to use sedang between the subject and verb. E.g.:

Saya sedang memasak.

I am cooking.

Dia sedang mencari perpustakaan.

He is looking for the library.

The word 'sedang, can be used interchangeably with the word 'tengah'. It has the same meaning and usage, but it is less formal, making one sound less awkward if speaking with a Malay speaker.

  • The word 'telah' means 'have done something.' Hence, it is suitable to indicate the past tense. E.g.

Malay: Ali telah siapkan kerja rumah.

English translation: Ali completed the house chores.

 

Malay: Sarah telah melipat bajunya kelmarin.

English translation: Sarah folded her laundry yesterday.

  • Next, to indicate future sentences, we can use the word 'akan'. 'Akan' can be translated into 'will' or, in other words, 'will do something in the future.'

Malay: Saya akan membasuh pinggan.

English translation: I will do the dishes.

 

Malay: Cikgu akan pulangkan buku saya.

English translation: The teacher will return my book.

2. Adverbs

In English, adverbs are used to modify an adjective or verb. Similarly, in Malay, it is common to use adverbs to emphasize the adjectives to make the sentence livelier. Some commonly used adverbs are ‘sangat’ and ‘terlalu’; both mean very or extremely. For instance:

Malay: Baju ini sangat mahal!

English translation: This shirt is very pricey!

 

Malay: Sup ini terlalu pedas.

English translation: This soup is too spicey.

3. Forgo The Suffix ‘Kah’

As seen in the table above, all Wh-words were given the suffix ‘kah’, which is necessary for proper Malay. However, Malay speakers tend to drop the suffix ‘kah’ when they ask questions, making it sound more natural and less formal. So, the questions in the example above can also be accepted as below:

Malay: Siapa lelaki itu?

English translation: Who is that man?

 

Malay: Bila Tarikh lahir kamu?

English translation: When is your birthday?

 

Malay: Berapa harga kek ini?

English translation: How much is the price of this cake?

 

Learn More About Bahasa Malaysia

That's it! You can now easily construct sentences and questions in Malay by following our simple tips above, or you can visit our app, Ling App, to learn more. Ling App allows you to learn all the necessary aspects of the Malay Language at your own pace through your smartphones. You might have many vocabularies up your sleeves now after studying Malay for some time. Now is your time to make use of those vocabularies and use them comfortably by constructing simple sentences. Let's Ling app help you! Ling also offers many other languages like French, Chinese, English, and many more.

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