A Start to Suffixes and Prefixes

Starting into Suffixes and Prefixes

Welcome to suffixes and prefixes today! These are the lifeblood of Bahasa Melayu. Bahasa Melayu thrives on affixes, both prefixes, and suffixes which combined with root words literally building an enormous amount of Bahasa Melayu’s lexicon. In this lesson, I’m going to introduce you to two of the many prefixes and suffixes in Bahasa Melayu “me..” and “an”.

The Prefix “Mer…”

A good way to describe the function of “me…” is as a default button. Prefix “me…” is primarily used when speaking and writing most verbs start with the prefix “me…” more often than not so it’s safer to use the prefix “me…” unless another prefix would work better.  Would you like some examples?

So a normal sentence in Bahasa Melayu would look something like this.

Saya hantar surat kepada nenek saya.

Now, this can mean one of three things…

I am sending a letter to my grandmother.

I sent a letter to my grandmother.

I send a letter to my grandmother.

Not extremely specific and there are time words that you can use to indicate past, present or future tense but that’s for another time. Now, the prefix “me..” can modify pre-existing verbs or turn nouns into verbs.

  • tunggu – wait
  • tolong – help/please
  • hantar – send
  • sapu – broom
  • eja – spell
  • baca – read
  • pilih – choose
  • rasa – taste/feel
  • gagal – fail

Now let’s add the prefix “me…” and see if you can distinguish the different patterns that arise.

  • menunggu – to wait
  • menolong – to help
  • menghantar – to send
  • menyapu – to sweep
  • mengeja – to spell
  • membaca – to read
  • memilih – to choose
  • merasa – to taste
  • menggagal – to fail

Note that “sapu” goes from being a noun, a broom, into a verb, to sweep. Also, that depending on the spelling and the beginning letter of the word the prefix similarly changes its own spelling and sometimes drops the first letter.

*More information about this, check out Malay for Everyone by Othman Sulaiman chapters 17 and 18. 

So if we were to use this in our opening sentences it would be.

Saya menghantar surat kepada nenek saya.

The most commonly used prefix this is integral as you go forward in Bahasa Melayu and may save you quite a bit of grief as you puzzle over what that new word “menolak” you realize that it’s just “tolak” (to push) with the prefix “me…”.

The Suffix “An…”:

Now to a suffix, the humble, the integral, suffix “an”. But to add a little fun I’m going to complete our lesson by performing a magic trick!

For my first act, I will need a few volunteers…. Yes, a verb, an action!

  • Makan – to eat
  • Minium – to drink
  • Ajar – to teach
  • Ingat – to recall
  • Fikir – to think

Behold, before your very eyes, I shall use this suffix, “an”, and transform every single one of these verbs into a noun! Ready?

  • Makanan– food
  • Miniuman – drink
  • Ajaran – teachings
  • Ingatan – memory
  • Fikiran – thoughts

Behold! Not only have I created nouns, but new words to add to your vocabulary not unlike the prefix “mer..’ but this one deserved a show.

The wonderful thing about affixes is once you know root words, you can use them to try and figure out the meaning of the words in front of you! For example, if you know “lukis”  (to draw) as a verb and know that adding “an” turns it into a noun then you can guess the meaning “lukisan” (painting) fairly easily.

(Be careful though because not all affixes go with all words and often not in the way you would think. For example, job is translated from “kerja” (to work) as expected but instead of being just “kerjaan” job in Bahasa Melayu is “pekerjaan”)

Thank you for watching my little magic trick and sticking around to the end of the lesson, I hope you learned a little bit of the basics, and I hope to see you again soon!


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