Indo-Lesson 3: “Saja” and its implications

Toshihiko here, and this is the 3rd lesson on the Indonesian language.

Today I’m going to focus on the discourse word “saja” and its usages.

Let's begin.

Saja, while can be loosely translated into “only” in English, it actually carries another meaning that has different implication, as can be seen in the following explanation:

  1. Saja as a plural.

In order to imply itself as a plural, the word apa, siapa, di mana, ke mana, and dari mana is followed by the word saja. Take a look at these two examples below:

(a). Kamu tadi pergi dengan siapa?

(b). Kamu tadi pergi dengan siapa saja?

In sentence (a), the questioner asks the question in which the answer can either be a singular or plural: dengan Andy or dengan Andy dan Harry.

In sentence (b) the questioner already presumes beforehand that the questioned went with several people and thus, he is asked to name those people. The expected answer is those people’s names, although it does not rule out the possibility that the questioner’s assumption is wrong.

Therefore, the answer for (b) could be Dengan Harry dan dengan John; Dengan Andy, Harry, dan John; or Hanya dengan Harry. Here are a few examples to show you how the absence of “saja” neutralises the sentence of pluralities:

  • (c). 1). Anda akan membeli apa?
  • (c). 2). Anda akan membeli apa saja?

  • (d). 1). Tadi malam ibu pergi ke mana?
  • (d). 2). Tadi malam ibu pergi ke mana saja?

  • (e). 1). Dari mana kamu, jam begini baru pulang?
  • (e). 2). Dari mana saja kamu, jam begini baru pulang?

  1. Saja as an indication of uncertainty.

The question phrases apa saja, siapa saja, di mana saja as stated above are used to indicate uncertainty when they are used in assertive sentences. Thus. The sentence Dia boleh membeli apa saja means that the items one can buy is not limited in variety and number. Take a look at the example below.

(f). Silahkan, ambil apa saja yang Anda inginkan.

(g). Tony bisa bergaul dengan siapa saja.

(h). Ke mana saja orang Jerman itu pergi, anak-anak mengikutinya.

(i). Ambillah berapa saja yang Ibu perlukan.

It is worth noted that berapa saja is not generally used in an interrogative sentence, yet it is commonplace in positive sentences such as example (i) above. As the word order in both positive and interrogative sentences are the same, then the difference lies in the usage of punctuation –with a dot < . > or question mark in written language– and intonation in spoken one.

Take a look at the contrasts shown in these sentences.

  • (j). 1). Kami boleh membeli apa saja?
  • (j). 2). Kami boleh membeli apa saja.

  • (k). 1). Dia diizinkan pergi dengan siapa saja?
  • (k). 2). Dia diizinkan pergi dengan siapa saja.

  • (l). 1). Orang itu boleh tinggal di mana saja?
  • (l). 2). Orang itu boleh tinggal di mana saja.

  • (m). 1). Bethel boleh bermain ke mana saja?
  • (m). 2). Bethel boleh bermain ke mana saja.

You must always remember that Indonesians speak formal language of EYD Indonesian only in politics, courtrooms, and Indonesian lessons. Therefore, never use the word “saja” in its formal context if you want to familiarise yourself with your Indonesian acquaintances: use “aja” instead.

That’s all for today’s lesson.

If you want to send me any questions regarding Bahasa Indonesia or the confusion you may find regarding the close affinity between Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu, you can always comment on this blog post or on the shoutbox in the sidebars. You may also send me suggestions on what I could discuss on future lessons.


TATA BAHASA BAKU BAHASA INDONESIA (Perum Balai Pustaka—1992:190-191)

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