April 13, 2009 by
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Adversative-passive verbs in standard Javanese

D. Edi Subroto

1.    It is no exaggeration to say that Prof. E. M. Uhlenbeck is one of the most influential scholars to study the Javanese language in this century. His work has encouraged me and others to explore the Javanese language system deeply and accurately. Many of Uhlen­beck’s studies deal with Javanese morphology, especially the verb system. Some of them have been collected in his Studies in Javanese morphology (1978). In the article “Verb structure in Javanese” (1978: 117-126), Uhlenbeck described, among other things, the structure of the Javanese verb class I.

Concerning the verbs ke-/k-R, ke-/k-R-an-called “adversative-passive verbs”-Uhlenbeck stated that ke-R and ke-R-an indicate the incidental, accidental, non-intentional attainment of a result or oc­curence (1978: 120). However, Uhlenbeck did not analyse the transi­tivity of the verbs-how many N’s or NP’s should accompany the verbs-, and the semantic relation between the N’s or NP’s and the verbs. It can be concluded that ke-R and ke-R-an in standard Javanese have not yet been given enough attention and have not yet been de­scribed accurately, unlike the di-R verbs (Dardjowidjojo 1983: 113).

The aim of this article is to give a more detailed description. I will describe not only the semantic aspects of the verbs, but also the nature of their semantic relationships with the N’s or NP’s accom­panying them in sentences.

2.    The theoretical approach adopted for this article is structuralism, especially structuralism which admits the centrality of the word not only in morphology, but also in language as a whole (cf. Uhlenbeck 1978; Edi Subroto 1985). This means that morphology is primarily concerned with the systematic extension of the vocabulary of a cer­tain language. It implies that there is a recipe or pattern by wick new words are formed from a basis and by a certain synchronic process. So, it is natural that the terms “word” and “synchronic process” will figure in a morphological description. Certain words or certain basic morphemes (D) are and can be used as the basis for the formation of new words (grammatically or categorially) which stand to the former in certain constant form-meaning relationships (Uhlenbeck 1978: 4).

In all languages, people regularly form new words according to cer­tain recipes or patterns, such words being accepted and understood without difficulty. Those recipes or patterns which can be continu­ously extended to form new words are called productive processes (Uhlenbeck 1978: 4; Bauer 1983: 63). As compared to the productive process, the non-productive process can only be applied incidentally. The number of words which can be formed by a non-productive pro­cess is limited, so they should be listed separately in any description.

The most important element in morphological description is the principle of proportions or the existence of a continuous proportion­ality within paradigms (Matthews 1974: 80; Uhlenbeck 1978: 119). The principle of proportionality can be seen as an identical relation between two morphological categories which reccur in other cate­gories, e.g., sail is to sailing as sing to singing as teach to teaching, and so on. Or, in Javanese, the relation of nggoreng (from the basis goreng ‘to fry’) to nggorengi and to nggorengake is the same as of digoreng to digorengi and to digorengake , and as of kegoreng to kegorengan (the form *kegorengake is non-existent in the Javanese verb system because of semantic constraints).1

The principle of proportionality implies the existence of categorial contrast among the categories within a certain horizontal row. The categorial contrast among categories within a certain horizontal row will be similar to the contrast among categories within another horizontal row. For example, the contrast between nggorengi and nggoreng and nggorengake to nggoreng is similar to that between digorengi and digoreng and digorengake and digoreng, and also similar to that betweeen kegorengan and kegoreng. The prefix ng- in nggoreng, nggorengi and nggorengake reflects the semantic value “action seen from the viewpoint of the actor” (actor or agentive focus). The difference between nggorengi and nggoreng can be described as follows: the suffix -i in nggorengi indicates the presence of some kind of plurality in the action, either because there is a plu­rality of objects to which the action is applied or because the action itself is repeated many times. The difference between nggorengake versus nggoreng can be described as follows: the suffix -ake in nggorengake has “benefactive” value, as in:

(1) Anita nggorengake iwak bapake

Anita fry fish father

‘Anita fried fish for her father’

(2) Anita nggelarake klasa Anita unroll          mat ‘Anita made the mat unrolled’

The categorial contrast between nggorengi and nggorengake can only be explained via nggoreng.

On the basis of the principle of proportionality, it can be concluded that the grammatical identity of a certain form in a certain horizontal row and in a certain column (e.g. ng-R) is also reflected in another form (e.g. ke-R). Thus, if ng-R is ditransitive, ke-R as its counterpart in the paradigm is also ditransitive, for example:2

(3) Ali mau                    nuthuk      watu adhine

Ali a while ago strike-ACT stone younger brother ‘A while ago, Ali struck his younger brother with a stone’

(4) Adhine mau kethuthuk watu

younger brother a while ago struck-PASS stone (dening Ali)

by                Ali

‘A while ago, his younger brother was struck (unintentionally) with a stone (by Ali)’

In (3), the semantic role. of Ali is agent or actor, the semantic role of watu is instrument, and the semantic role of adhine is patient. In (4), the doer or the actor, i.e. dening Ali, is optional.

If ng-R is monotransitive, ke-R as its counterpart is also mono-transitive, for instance:

(5) Ali mau     nyenggol      aku

Ali a while ago touch-ACT I

‘A while ago, Ali touched me’

(6) Aku mau                    kesenggol (dening Ali)

I               a while ago touch-PASS by                   Ali

‘A while ago, I was touched (unintentionally) (by Ali)’

The ke-/k-R and ke-/k-R-an verbs in Javanese are called accidental, adversative-passive verbs. According to Uhlenbeck, the verbs ng-R, ng-R-i, ng-R-ake are distinguished from ke-R , ke-R -an and di-R, di­R-i and di-R-ake because the action they indicate is an action as seen from the viewpoint of the actor. The forms ke-R, ke-R -an and di-R, di-R-i, di-R-ake may be characterized as verbs indicating “action not positively considered from the viewpoint of the actor” (1978: 119). In this case, verbs that indicate action as seen from the viewpoint of the actor are called active, and verbs that indicate action not positive‑


ly considered from the viewpoint of the actor are called passive. The prefix ke- in ke-R and ke-R-and has the semantic value “the event or condition is either unexpected, unintentional, unavoidable and the effect is adversative” (Dardjowidjojo 1983: 117; cf. Uhlenbeck 1978: 121). Some examples:

(7) Aku    kodanan

I         catch-in-the-rain-PASS

‘I was caught in the rain (unexpectedly, unavoidably)’

(8) Sirah-ku kethuthuk        watu

head-my strike-PASS    stone

‘My head was struck (unintentionally) with a stone’

(9) Merga kesel banger Ali keturon

because very tired               Ali fall-asleep-ACT

‘Because he was very tired, Ali fell asleep (unavoidably)’

In general, I support Uhlenbeck’s statement that the verb in modern standard Javanese can be divided into two classes, each characterized by a certain set of morphological contrasts (Uhlenbeck 1978: 128; Edi Subroto 1985: 175-177). There are at least two morphological differences between classes I and II:

(a)    the first class has a category which is nearly always also present in the second class. This is the category which is formally charac­terized by the presence of a suffix -an and which semantically corresponds to the semantic value “to do something just for fun, or leisurely, not seriously; sometimes to do something in the spirit with other people” (Uhlenbeck 1978: 128);

(b)   in class I the suffixless verbal forms prefixed with di- occur side by side with nasalized suffixless forms, while in class H the nasalized suffixless forms may occur but never occur side by side with di-forms. In this case, ng-R forms in class II are called intransitive verbs, for example nglatih ‘to train’ #* dilatih ‘to be trained’, latihan ‘to do training, to practise (not very seriously)’ (class I); nibs ‘to fall by himself (not seriously, just for fun)’  *ditiba (class II).

On the basis of this analysis, it can be predicted that ke-R verbs can only be found in class I and ke-R-an verbs in both I and II.

3. The formation of ke-R and ke-R-an involves the prefix ke- and the suffix -an. The form of the prefix ke- depends on the conditions of the basis or the root morpheme. If the basis is disyllabic and begins with a consonant other than /w, 1, r/, the prefix takes the form ke-:

the prefix ke- and the on the conditions of disyllabic and begins ikes the form ke-:

If the basis begins with /w, 1, r/, the ke-prefix may occur side by side with k- (the shorter form) without any difference in meaning:

(10) surung ==> kesurung (grobag)

‘to be pushed (by accident) (with an oxcart)’

(11) tabrak => ketabrak (montor)

‘to be crashed (by accident) (by a car)’

(12) thuthuk => kethuthuk (watu)

‘to be struck (by accident) (with a stone)’

(13) bakar => kebakar

‘to be fired (by accident)’

If the basis begins with /w, 1, r/, the ke-prefix may occur side by side with k- (the shorter form) without any difference in meaning:

(14) lumah ==> kelumah / klumah

‘to fall face upward (unintentionally)’

(15) rasa       => kerasa / krasa

‘to be felt (unavoidably)’

(16) walik => kewalik / kwalik / kuwalik (archaic)

‘to be upside down, inside out (unintentionally)’

If the basis begins with /b, d, dh, g, j/, the ke-prefix sometimes becomes ge- (generally called regressive assimilation):

(17) bakar => kebakar / gebakar ‘to be fired (by accident)’

(18) damn           kedamu / gedamu ‘to be breathed (unintentionally)’

(19) dhupak => kedhupak / gedhupak ‘to be kicked (by accident) (with a  foot)’

(20) jotos       => ke otos / gejotos ‘tobe struck (unintentionally)’

(21)      godhok => kegodhok Ig egodhok

to be boiled (unintentionally)’

If the basis is disyllabic and begins with a vowel, the prefix takes the form k- (the shorter version) that sometimes varies with kek- (the longer version) without any difference in meaning except that the longer version has an archaic connotation:

(22) antem => kantem / kekantem

‘to be struck (unintentionally)’

(23) olu   =>  kolu / kekolu .

‘to be swallowed (by accident)’

(24) ireng =>  kireng / kekireng

‘to be blackened (unintentionally)’

(25) abang => kabang / kekabang

‘to be reddened (unintentionally)’

If the basis is monosyllabic, the prefix takes the form ke- that v with kek- (the longer version) without any difference in meanie ceps that the longer version again sounds archaic:

(26) mot

(27) pe

kemot / kekemot

‘to beublished (in a publication) (unexpec kepeAkekepe

‘to be dried in the sun (unintentionally)’

4. In this section the semantic relation between ke-/k-R and ke-1k an and the N’s or NP’s which accompany them in sentences will described. The semantic aspect of ke-/k-R and ke-/k-R-an, in o words, will be described accurately.

4. 1. The ke-/k-R verb

It has been mentioned before that ke-/k-R can only be found in cl I. This verb may be monotransitive or ditransitive. It is called mon transitive if it can be followed by one N/NP and its semantic role agent or instrument, apart from the other N/NP which is placed fore the verb. The N/NP placed in front of ke-/k-R is a subject of sentence and its semantic role is patient. The patient specifies what is ,that is in the state or condition affected by the verb. In this c the N/NP following ke-/k-R is not always realized on the surfs because according to the speaker the stress is placed on the N occupying the subject position. Some examples are the following:

(28) Sikil-ku kepidak bocah kuwi

foot-my step-PASS that                 boy

‘My foot was stepped on (unintentionally) by that boy’

(29) Gelase pecah amarga kesenggol Amir

glass            break-PASS because touch-PASS Amir

‘The glass is broken because it was touched (by accident) by Amir’

(30) Aku kesikut bocah kuwi mau

I strike-elbow-PASS that         boy a while ago ‘I was struck with a moving elbow (unintentionally) by that boy a while ago’

(31) Malinge wis         kecekel       (dening polisi).

thief          already catch-PASS by               police
‘The thief already got caught (by the police)’

The prefix ke-/k- in all the ke-/k-R verbs has the semantic value of “incidental, accidental, non-intentional attainment of a result or occurrence; or the event or condition is either unexpected, unpredicated or unavoidable and generally the effect is adversative” (Dardjowidjojo 1983: 117). As can be gathered from examples (28) through (31), N’s or NP’s that follow ke-/k-R will be agentive because all of them are human. If they are non-human, their semantic role is instrumental.

Some of these verbs were derived from nouns by zero derivation, a phenomenon called “conversion” (cf. Quirk 1974). Some examples:

(32) sikut (N) ==> sikut (V)

‘elbow’            ‘to strike with the elbow’

(33) pacul (N) => pacul (V)

‘hoe’                ‘to dig up (the field) with a hoe’

(34) pukul (N) => pukul (V)

‘hammer’         ‘to strike with a hammer’

(35) sapu (N) => sapu (V)

‘broom’           ‘to sweep, wipe off with a broom’

In standard Javanese many ke-/k-R verbs are formed from the basis this way. Thus, from the basis of the zero derivational verb ng-R or di-R or ke-R can be formed. Some examples:

(36) sapu (N) => sapu (V)


‘to sweep’


‘to be swept’


‘to be swept (unintentionally)’

(37) luku (N) =* luku (V)

ngluku ‘to plow diluku

‘to be plowed’


‘to be plowed (unintentionally)’

(38) pedhang (N) => pedhang (V)                                                                             

‘to strike’


‘to be struck’

Other nouns that can be derived into ke-R according to this pattern are: pistol ‘pistol, revolver’, graji ‘saw’, setrika ‘iron’, Cutup ‘cover’, en-tup‘sting’, peso ‘knife’, glathi ‘broad bladed knife’, arit ‘sickle’, sorot ‘light’, cidhuk‘water dipper’, clurit‘kind of sickle’, linggis ‘crowbar’.                                                                          I

In class I some ke-lk-R verbs are ditransitive. It can be predicted that these verbs are the counterparts of ditransitive ng-R verbs. Being non-productive, they are few in number:

(39) Amir                 kedhupak                 sepatu

Amir                kick-PASS                shoe

Amir was kicked (by accident) with a shoe’

(40) Aku                  kekantem                  watu

I                       strike-PASS              stone

‘I was struck (by accident) with a stone’

(41) Sikilk-u            kesiram                    banyu

foot-my           pour-PASS             , water

‘My foot was poured (by accident) with water’

(42) Rai-ku              kesorot                     lampu

face-my           illuminate-PASS       light

‘My face was illuminated (unintionally) with light’                                                

(43) Sikil-ku            kegrojok                   banyu

foot-my          pour-hard-PASS       water                                                           

‘My foot was poured hard (by accident) with water’

(44) Dhadha-ku kedhodhok                     watu

chest-my struck-hard-PASS             stone

‘My chest was struck hard (by accident) with a stone’

(45) Rambut-ku kesemprot                       banyu

hair-my            spray-hard-PASS      water

‘My hair was sprayed hard (by accident) with water’

(46) Amir                 ketabrak                   montor

Amir                crash-PASS              car

‘Amir was crashed (by accident) by a car’.

(47) Rai-ne              ketatap                     alu

face-his            slap-PASS                rice pestle

His face was slapped (by accident) with a rice pestle’

4.2. The ke-k-R-an verb

The formation of the ke-/k-R-an verb involves the suffix -an. Suffixa­tion with -an in Javanese has been discussed at length by Uhlenbeck (1978: 69-88).

The ke-/k-R-an verbs in class I are found accidentally. This means that ke-/k-R-an does not always occur side by side with ke-/k-R because of a semantic constraint. The adversative value of the verbs prevents the repetition or the continuity of the event or the occur­rence. The categorial contrast between ke-/k-R-an and ke-/k-R can be described as follows: there is a “continuous or frequentative feature” realized by -an in ke-/k-R-an versus “neutral to the continuous or frequentative feature” in ke-lk-R. Ke-lk-R-an verbs in class I are:

(48) kesorotan lampu montor terus

illuminate-PASS light        car          continuously

‘to be illuminated (unexpectedly) by car light continuously’

(49) kesiraman          banyu anget terus

pour-PASS         water       warm      continuously

‘to be poured (unintentionally) with warm water continuously’

(50) ketutupan lawang terus

cover-PASS        door        continuously

‘to be covered (unexpectedly) by the door continuously’

(51) kesemprotan banyu terus

spray.PASS         water       continuously

‘to be sprayed (unexpectedly) with water continuously’

We know that ke-/k-R-an in class I is classified as ditransitive. This means that this kind of verb occurs side by side with ditransitive ke­A-R. Generally, the N’s or NP’s following the verb are non-human and their semantic role is instrument.

Ke-/k-R-an in class II can be classified into two types, namely monotransitive and ditransitive. The monotransitive type can occur side by side with ng-R-i monotransitive, and the ditransitive one can occur side by side with ng-R-i ditransitive. Compare, for instance, the following pair:

(52) a. wite             kuwi           ngeyupi . omah-ku

tree            that             shade           house-my ‘that tree shaded my house’

b. omah-ku keyupan          wite kuwi

house-my shade-PASS tree               that

‘my house was shaded (unexpectedly) by that tree’

In this case, the verb keyupan is monotransitive. The NP that follows the verb is non-human and its semantic role is instrument. Compare this with the following sentences:

(53) a. bocah       kuwi             nibani          watu              Amir

boy           that              drop            stone             Amir

‘hat boy dropped  (intentionally) a stone on Amir’

b. Amir       ketibanan  watu              (bocah          kuwi)

Amir       shade-PASS stone           boy               that

‘Amir was hit (unintentionally) with a stone (by that boy)’

In this case, the verb ketibanan is ditransitive and can potentially be followed by two N’s or NP’s (watu and bocah kuwi). The semantic role of the non-human N/NP is instrument, and the semantic role of the human N/NP is agent.

Both types of ke-/k-R-an in class II – whether mono- or di­transitive – are non-productive. Monotransitive are the following:

(54) omah-ku      keyupan wit

house-my shelter-PASS               tree

‘my house was sheltered (by) a tree’

(55) sikil-ku         kelungguhan           Amir

foot-my        sit-PASS                  Amir

‘my foot was seated on (unintentionally) by Amir’

(56) kowe            kelingan                  sapa?

you               remember-PASS      who

‘who were you remembered of?’

(57) aku              kedhisikan               (Amir)

I                    surpass-PASS          Amir

‘I was surpassed (unexpectedly) (by Amir)’

(58) aku              kemalingan             (coaling (N) ‘thief)

I                    steal-PASS

‘I got stolen’

(59) aku              kodanan                  (udan (N) ‘rain’)

I                    catch-in-rain.PASS

‘I was caught in the rain’

(60) aku              kepanasan              (pangs (A) ‘hot’)

I                    suffer-from-heat

‘I suffer from heat’

(61) aku              kadhemen               (adhem (A) ‘cold’)

I                    suffer-from-cold

‘I suffer from cold’

(62) aku              kapusan              (bocah kuwi)

I                    cheat-PASS             boy         that

‘I was cheated (unexpectedly) (by that boy)’

(63) aku              kungkuran              (Amir)

I                    face-by-back-PASS Amir

‘I was faced by the back (unintentionally) (by Amir)’

(64) aku              kepetengan             (kowe)

I                    darken-PASS           you

‘I was darkened (unintentionally) (by you)’

The following verbs are ditransitive:

(65) omah-ku      kelebonan               maling

house-my pass-PASS                   thief ‘my house got passed by a thief’

(66) kuping-ku kelebonan                  banyu

ear-my          enter-PASS              water

‘my ear was entered into (by accident) by water’

(67) aku              kambonan               lengawangi

I                    smell-PASS          perfume

‘I was smelled (unintentionally) by perfume’

(68) latar-ku        klongsoran              lemah

yard-my        erode-PASS             soil

‘my yard was eroded (by soil) (by accident)’

(69) omah-ku      kambrukan              wit

house-my hit-PASS                      tree

‘my house was hit (by accident) by a falling tree’

(70) latar-ku        kilenan                    banyu

yard-my        channel-PASS         water

‘my yard (of house) was channelled (by accident) by water’

(71) aku              kundhakan              rega

I                    suffer-PASS            raising price

‘I suffer from raising price (unexpectedly)’

5. The ke-k-R and ke-/k-R-an verbs in the Javanese verb system are very interesting to study at length. Because of some peculiarities in their semantic values, the ke-/k-R and ke-/k-R-an verbs also show some idiosyncrasies. One of these is the absence of continuous pro­portionality between ke-k-R-an and ke-/k-R in class I. This means that the existence of ke-/k-R does not guarantee the existence of ke­/k-R-an. Or, every ke-/k-R does not always occur alongside ke-/k-R­an. The other factor that makes these verbs very interesting is their high frequency in language use. They are part of the daily vocab‑ulary. I hope that this article will contribute to the development of Javanese linguistics.


1.     The complete form of paradigm I of verb class I in Javanese can be found in Uhlenbeck (1978: 119) and Edi Subroto (1985: 183-184).

2.     Abbreviations used: A = adjective, ACT = active, D = dasar (basic mor­pheme), N = noun, NP = noun phrase, PASS = passive, R = root mormpheme.


Bauer, Laurie

1983        English word-formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dardjowidjojo, Soenjono

1983        Beberapa aspek linguistik Indonesia. Jakarta: Djambatan. Edi Subroto, D.

1985 Transposisi dari adjektiva menjadi verbs dan sebaliknya dalam Bahasa Jawa. [Unpublished PhD dissertation.] Jakarta: Universitas Indonesia.

Matthews, Peter

1974       Morphology: An introduction to the theory of word-structure. Cam­bridge: Cambridge University Press.

Quirk, Randolph et al.

1978        A grammar of contemporary English. 7th ed. London: Longman.

Uhlenbeck, E. M.

1978        Studies in Javanese morphology. The Hague: Nijhoff.


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