MeN--kan adjectives in Indonesian

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at
Wed Jun 20 17:39:32 UTC 2001

Q1: This formation is quite productive.  See James Sneddon's _Indonesian: A
Comprehensive Grammar_ (Routledge, 1996): sections 1.194-197 (pp. 71-73):
"One subtype of causatives are [sic!] based on adjectives indicating
emotions and attitudes.... When there is no object these verbs function
like adjectives and are usually translated by adjectives."
Ex.: meN-...-kan + bosan, kecewa, kejut, prihatin, sedih, puas, malu,
senang, yakin, takut, cemas, kagum, heran, khawatir, bangga, risau
"A number of verbs whose bases do not indicate emotions or attitudes,
including some with noun bases, function in the same way as the emotive
verbs and can be grouped with them."
Ex: meN-...-kan + rugi, heboh, kesan, repot

Q2: My sense is that the corresponding di-...-kan forms rarely function
"adjectivally" in the same way that the active forms do.  One test is to
see if they can take modifying adverbs such as "sangat" ('very').  A Google
search does turn up some forms like "sangat ditakutkan", "sangat
dikecewakan", and "sangat diherankan" but in these cases the passive is
semantically similar to the active (eliciting fear, disappointment, amazement).

Some Google counts:

sangat menyenangkan: 1030
sangat disenangkan: 1

sangat menyedihkan: 469
sangat disedihkan: 1

sangat memalukan: 339
sangat dimalukan: 0

sangat membosankan: 109
sangat dibosankan: 0

sangat menakutkan: 278
sangat ditakutkan: 22

sangat mengecewakan: 277
sangat dikecewakan: 17

sangat mengherankan: 178
sangat diherankan: 6

This test isn't foolproof, though, because "sangat" occasionally modifies
transitive verbs!


On Tue, 19 Jun 2001 13:05:47 -0400 you wrote:

>Dear Austronesianists,
>Could any of you out there help me answer a few questions about
>so-called "complex adjectives" in Indonesian? I'm talking about
>examples like:
>Peristiwa yang  menyedihkan     itu...
>Incident  REL   saddening       that
>'(The incident which was saddening=) The saddening incident...'
>Question 1: How productive is this form of complex adjective? Are
>many others besides "menyedihkan" generated, or is there a set stock
>of them in use?
>Question 2: Could the corresponding di-form "disedihkan" ('saddened')
>also be used in an adjectival way, or is it always a verb (if a
>clear-cut distinction between adjectives and verbs in Indonesian can
>be drawn)?
>Thank you very much for reading this posting!
>Regards from Ithaca,

Benjamin G. Zimmer
Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Chicago

6022 S. Drexel Ave. #602
Chicago, IL  60637
(773) 643-0134
bg-zimmer at

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