Indonesian Homophones

Updated: Jun 2

In our previous article, we talked about words that are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings, a.k.a. homonyms. Do you know that there are also words that sound identical to other words, yet they have different spellings and meanings? These words are called homophones.


Because these words are spelled differently, it would be easier to define them when you read them in texts. But when these words are presented verbally, you would have to pay extra attention to the context since it is the only thing that can determine the meaning of the spoken words.


Here are five pairs of Indonesian words that sound identical but have different spelling and meanings.


1. Tujuh and Tuju

How much is one more than six and three less than ten? If your answer is seven, you are correct. Seven in Bahasa Indonesia is ‘tujuh’.


Ada tujuh hari dalam satu minggu.

(There are seven days in a week)


However, there is also an Indonesian word which sounds similar to Tujuh. That word is ‘tuju’. Despite their similarity, these two words have completely different meanings. While tujuh refers to the number seven, 'tuju' means to indicate where someone is heading to. 


Dalam sepuluh menit Anda akan sampai di tempat yang Anda tuju.

(In ten minutes you will arrive at the place you are heading to.)


2. Massa dan Masa

If you spend your time watching Indonesian news or reading the paper, you will often hear the word ‘massa’. This specific word is used to represent a large group of people, whether they are scattered or concentrated in one place.


Massa sedang panik karena pandemi.

(The mass is panicking because of the pandemic.)


But if you delete one 's' from massa, it will result in a word with a different meaning. The word 'masa' refers to a certain time period or an era. 


For example:

Masa kerja saya berakhir hari ini. 

(My work period ends today.)


3. Tank and Tang

If you are a military enthusiast, you should know the word ‘tank’. Tank refers to the military vehicle armed with a large gun and moves with two belts fitted to its wheels. The thing is, you cannot pronounce tank as it is an English word. The correct Indonesian pronunciation is /taŋ/ not /tæŋk/. 


Tank ini sudah digunakan dalam banyak perang.

This Tank has been used in many wars.


Meanwhile, the word ‘tang’ refers to the tool made of two crossed metal, used to hold small things and also bend or cut wires.


Saya perlu tang untuk memperbaiki radio saya.

(I need pliers to repair my radio.)


4. Sanksi and Sangsi

When someone does something against the rules and gets caught, this person will be given certain punishment, penalty, or sanction. In Bahasa Indonesia, the consequence of violating the rule is called ‘sanksi’.


Saya mendapat sanksi karena merusak properti pemerintah.

(I was sanctioned for damaging the government's property.)


After you know the word sanksi, try to replace the ‘k’ with a ‘g’ and it will serve a different meaning. You can use the word ‘sangsi’ to express your hesitation towards something.


Saya sangsi dengan rencana Anda.

(I am hesitant about your plan.)


5. Bank and Bang

The word ‘bank’ must be familiar to you. Indonesians also call the establishment that keeps and lends money and provides other financial services as bank. Just like tank, this word should not be pronounced /bæŋk/, but /baŋ/.


Dini pergi ke bank untuk mengambil gajinya.

(Dini goes to the bank to take her salary.)


On the other hand, you might often hear the word bang in daily conversations. Bang is the shorter version of Abang, which is normally used to call one’s older brother. 


Jangan lupa makan, Bang.

(Do not forget to eat, older brother.)


Now that you know these words, try to use them in your daily life. Practice the pronunciation and see if your fellow Indonesian speakers can understand what you are trying to say.

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