‘Baik’ or ‘Bagus’
These two words are probably the first few words that Indonesian learners would have known when they started learning Indonesian.
Both of the words are adjectives and have the meaning of good.
Although they have the same meaning, it does not mean that these two words can be used interchangeably. Indeed, sometimes you can use either ‘baik’ or ‘bagus’ but not at all times.
Some Indonesian people might give you a simple explanation on the difference between these two words by saying that ‘baik’ is more about what you cannot see and ‘bagus’ is more about what you can see. Let’s try to look deeper into it.
The adjective ‘baik’ is more often used when someone is talking about:
- Human beings & their inner quality
- Animals & their inner quality
- Situations & relationships
The adjective ‘bagus’ is more often used when someone is talking about:
- Inanimate objects & their quality
- Intangible things & their quality
Let’s look at the examples to get practical understanding of the differences:
Apa kabar? (How are you?)
Here, you can see that the word ‘baik’ is used to explain a person’s feeling.
Why not ‘bagus’?
If the word ‘bagus’ is used in this sentence, the response will become awkward because someone’s feeling is a part of their inner quality that cannot really be seen (unless if you are good at reading people but that’s not the point we are making here). Not to mention that you are not talking to an inanimate object but a person.
Budi orang baik. (Budi (is) (a) good person)
Here, you can see that the word ‘baik’ is used to explain a person’s inner quality.
It is indeed a broad sentence and there are a lot of reasons on why the speaker says that Budi is ‘baik’. Regardless of whatever the reason is, according to the speaker, Budi has inner qualities that deserve him to be called good.
Why not ‘bagus’?
If the word ‘bagus’ is used in this sentence, the sentence will become awkward because firstly, Budi is not inanimate. Secondly, even if it is used to describe him of being good-looking or handsome, there are already other words that can be used such as ‘tampan’ or ‘ganteng’ (meaning: handsome) and using ‘bagus’ in this sentence will make those words redundant.
Buku ini bagus sekali! (This book (is) really good)
Here, you can see that the word ‘bagus’ is used to explain a quality of an inanimate object.
‘Bagus’ in this sentence could mean that the book is well written and has great ideas in it or it has great fonts, designs or even cover. To ensure that you fully understand the speaker’s intention you can clarify by asking which part/aspect of the book that they think is good but it is safe to assume that he/she must be talking about the content first.
Why not ‘baik’?
It is almost impossible to use ‘baik’ in this context. Using ‘baik’ will make it sound as if the book is kind and nice whilst the book itself is inanimate.
Wah, ide kamu bagus sekali! (Wow, your idea (is) great!)
Here, you can see that the word ‘bagus’ is used to explain a quality of intangible things.
Why not ‘baik’?
Some Indonesian speakers might use ‘baik’ in this context. However, as an Indonesian learner, you are not recommended to use it in that way yet as it may confuse yourself. Using ‘baik’ will make it sound as if the idea is kind and nice whilst regardless of how good the idea is, it is the person behind it that can be called as kind and nice for projecting such idea.
Unfortunately, there are always exceptions in the language. Earlier I said that ‘baik’ is used to talk about situations and relationships and ‘bagus’ is used to talk about intangible things and their quality. But if you notice, situations and relationships can also be seen as intangible things at times and this is where it becomes tricky. Look at the examples below:
Bagaimana kantor kamu? (How (is) your office?)
Cukup baik. Ada banyak klien hari ini. (Quite good. There (are) a lot of clients today.)
Bagaimana hubungan kamu dengan pacar kamu? (How (is) your relationship with your girl/boyfriend?)
Baik sekali! Kami akan menikah tahun depan. (Really good! We will get married next year.)
You can see here that the first preference is to use the word ‘baik’ in such context. But if the word ‘bagus’ is used instead, will it be wrong?
Arguably, it will still be acceptable.
Why? Because some situations and relationships are not only experienced by the people involved in it but can also be seen by someone else and in that sense both ‘bagus’ and ‘baik’ can be used to talk about it.
Have a question regarding this topic? Post your question below!