Indonesian Proverbs and Sayings


There are many ways of learning Bahasa Indonesia. But, the fastest way to master this language is to practice it in daily conversations. Well, in daily conversation usually Indonesian will use a lot of slang words, while in documents, news, letters, literature, and other writings, standard formal Bahasa Indonesia will be used. Proverbs and sayings are also widely used in those pieces.

Here are some proverbs and sayings in Bahasa Indonesia that will help you to understand something you read or hear more, and of course help you to learn Bahasa Indonesia:

Proverbs or sayings Literal meaning Meaning
Nasi sudah menjadi bubur The rice has become porridge What’s done is done
Ada udang di balik batu A shrimp hides behind the stone There is hidden agenda/hidden intention (usually negative intention) behind something or someone’s activity
Rumput tetangga selalu lebih hijau The neighbor’s grass is always greener than ours What people have always appears better/more/bigger than ours
Sambil menyelam minum air Drinking water while diving  Multitasking, doing more than one thing at the same time
Bertepuk sebelah tangan To clap with only one hand The feeling/attraction/agreement is one-sided (usually used for a love interest, or in business environment when striking a deal)
Seperti/bagai telur di ujung tanduk Like an egg on the tip of a horn In a dangerous, tense, critical situation
 Otak di dengkul  Brain on the knees  Someone is so dumb
 Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya  Empty can sounds the loudest  People who don’t have knowledge (or the dumbest) speak the loudest
 Lempar batu sembunyi tangan  The hand that throws the stone is hidden  Blame someone or make them responsible for a problem you should deal with
 Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh juga  No matter how smart a squirrel jumps, it will eventually fall  Even the wisest and most competent man makes mistakes / no matter how hard one does something (unfairly or underhandedly), people will know eventually
 Sudah jatuh tertimpa tangga  Fell and struck down by a ladder  Experience something unlucky more than once in a short period of time / make a difficult situation even worse for someone
 Besar pasak daripada tiang  The peg is bigger than the pole  Expenditure is way bigger than the income
 Buah jatuh tidak jauh dari pohonnya  The fruit falls near the tree  Son’s or daughter’s nature resembles their parents
 Berakit ke hulu, berenang ke tepian  Rafting to the headwaters, swimming to the riversides  No pain no gain; in order to achieve something great, suffering is necessary
 Kacang lupa kulitnya  Peanut forgets its shell  Someone who forgets or doesn’t want to acknowledge his family/friends once he becomes successful
 Air tenang menghanyutkan  Still water can sweep you away  a calm deamenor may hide a lot of knowledge
Dikasih/diberi hati, minta jantung Get the liver but still ask for the heart Refers to situation when someone becomes generous to someone but then he demands even more
 Tak ada gading yang tak retak  There is always imperfect tusk  Usually used in the end of the speech or text, means the works/speech/text is imperfect and still needs some improvements
 Ada asap ada api  If there is smoke, there must be the fire  No effect without some cause
 Karena nila setitik, rusak susu sebelanga  With only a drop of poison, a pot of milk is damaged  Because only a small mistake, all the efforts are wasted
 Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan  Like an owl missing/yearning for the moon  To wish for something impossible
 Bagai pinang dibelah dua  Like a betel nut split in half  Identical, very similar
 Bagai air di daun talas  As the water is on the taro leaf  Describes a volatile person who can’t be trusted or wishy-washy
 Guru kencing berdiri, murid kencing berlari  A teacher pees standing up, and pupils pee on the run  If the teacher (this can refers to parents, teacher, role models) is bad, the youngsters or the followers are worse
 Mulutmu harimaumu  Your mouth is your tiger Control every word you say because words are reflection of yourself
 Tak ada rotan akar pun jadi  If there is no rattan, roots can be used  If you can’t find the things you need, use something else