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5 Malay affixes that you've never heard of

(and how to use them to create new words)


Read this article in Malay >>


Have you ever thought that Bahasa Melayu is too 'long-winded', or isn't quick enough to make a point? For example, flightless bird is 'jenis burung yang tak terbang' ('type of bird that doesn't fly'). Or have you ever thought that Bahasa Melayu can't keep up with the English language, because we so often borrow or directly translate words like selfie, kod kelakuan (code of conduct), and don't draw on our own linguistic resources to convey these new ideas?


In this article, we list 5 Bahasa Melayu affixes that can solve the above problems. Languages like English and Japanese frequently make use of affixes to create new words, whether it is to quickly convey an idea, or to build an entirely new meaning.


Although extremely useful, these Malay affixes are seldom used. If you are fed up with the direct English translations and the long-windedness of common Bahasa Melayu usage, make it your new year's resolution to use these affixes more often.



1. tuna-

Meaning: tanpa / tidak mempunyai (without / doesn't have)


The chicken is a type of flightless bird.


Existing examples:

  • tunakarya (tiada karya/pekerjaan / jobless / unemployed), 
  • tunakerna (tiada pendengaran / deaf)
  • tunanetra (buta / blind)


Suggested new usage:

In Bahasa Indonesia, birds that don't fly, or flightless birds, are called burung tunaterbang (flightless birds). This is an easier and quicker way of saying it than 'birds that don't fly'. We could try using this prefix in describing whatever that lacks something, such as burung tunaterbang, masyarakat tunakerna (deaf community, which could be seen as a more polite term than orang pekak), and so on.


English translation: The closest English affix to this is the suffix '-less', such as jobless, loveless, flightless and fearless. 


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2. pasca-

Meaning: selepas (after)


Pasca- means something that happens following an event or occurrence.


Existing examples:

  • pascamerdeka (selepas kemerdekaan / after independence),
  • pascanilai (penilaian selepas sesuatu kejadian / an evaluation after an incident),
  • pascabayar (pembayaran selepas perkhidmatan / paying after completion of the service),
  • pascasiswazah (kursus pelajaran selepas kursus siswazah / course taken after undergraduate degree)


Suggested new usage:

Whatever effects or reactions that take place after an event can be easily named using this affix. Post-war effects on a community can be called 'pascaperang' (post-war), as well as post-earthquake effects: 'pascagempa' (post-tremor).


English translation: The closest English translation to this affix is clearly post-, which is in the words post-mortem, post-natal, postpaid and post-coup.


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3. tata-

Meaning: peraturan / susunan / sistem (rules / arrangement / system)

Tata- refers to an arrangement or a system.


Existing examples:

  • tatakerja (sistem kerja / work system),
  • tatanegara (susunan negara / national system),
  • tatabahasa (peraturan bahasa / language rules),
  • tatacara (susunan acara / event arrangement)


Suggested new usage:

This affix is highly useful in naming any system in a brief manner, such as the rules of social mingling (tataetika/tatakelakuan, or in English code of conduct), rules of athletic conduct (tatakesukanan/tatasukan, or in English sportsmanship), etc.


English translation: No English affix quite accurately matches the meaning of 'tata-', but the suffix '-ship' can sometimes be translated with this, such as in sportsmanship, workmanship and others.


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4. eka-

Meaning: satu / one

Eka- is of Sanskrit origin and means 'one'.

Existing examples:

  • ekabahasa (satu bahasa/monolingual), 
  • ekafungsi (satu fungsi/one function).


Suggested new usage:

This affix is used to state that a thing has only 1 of a certain characteristic. Therefore, you can state that a 1-bed hotel room is 'ekatetamu' (one-guest), a single-storey house is 'ekatingkat' (one-floor), and a one-way road is 'ekaarah' (one-way).


English translation: The closest English affix to this word is the prefix mono-, such as in the words monolingual, monotonous, monologue and monopoly.


Ever seen English 'counting affixes' such as tri- (trifecta), quadri (quadrigram) and deca- (decanormal)? You can easily translate these words into Malay. Try reading our article on Malay counting affixes such as eka-, dwi-, panca- and more.


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5. swa-

Meaning: sendiri (self)

Swagambar, iaitu 'selfie'.



Existing examples:

  • swafoto/swagambar (selfie), 
  • swalayan (sistem layan diri di restoran / self-service system at a restaurant)
  • swakarya (hasil usaha atau buatan sendiri / one's own work or creation)
  • swadaya (kekuatan diri / one's own strength or effort)


Suggested new usage:

All activities done on one's own, or things belonging to oneself, should be described using this affix. As an example, holidays or explorations done alone (swacuti/self-holiday, or swakembara/self-travel). 'Swapotret' (self-portrait) and 'swagambar' (self-picture) can also be used as alternatives to swafoto (self-photo).


English translation: The closest English affix to 'swa-' is clearly the prefix self-, such as self-made, self-taken, self-proclaimed and self-portrait.


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If you know of any other rarely-used Malay affixes, words or grammar rules, have your choice of either adding it to our online dictionary or telling our readers about it on our Facebook page.

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