‘Kapan’, ‘Ketika’ or ‘Waktu’

The word when is arguably one of the most used words in any language.

Sooner or later you will find yourself wanting to ask a question about time or to tell stories about the time when you did something in Indonesian. But do you know that we have 3 different ‘when’ in Indonesian?

‘Kapan’  is the question word in Indonesian that is equivalent to the question word when in English.

The general rule for this word is you can only use it for a question.

Example 1:
Kapan kamu makan siang?
When (did/will) you have lunch?

Example 2:
Kapan kamu pergi?
When (did/will) you go?

When using the question word ‘kapan’, Indonesian often leave out the auxiliary verbs  such as ‘akan’ (will). This is because Indonesian language is very context-oriented and you only use the question word ‘kapan’ when you’re in a particular context (i.e. making an appointment). Hence, the auxiliary verbs such as ‘akan’ or any other time indicator is no longer necessary as you’re assumed to understand what each other mean anyway because the context allows.

Also note that question word ‘kapan’ should be treated as an adverb of time which means it could be located at the beginning, in the middle – before the verb – and at the end of a sentence/question.

‘Ketika’  is the statement version of when that cannot be used as a question word.

Whenever ‘Ketika’ is used, the speaker is not making a question when but rather forming a sentence that will be treated as an adverb of time.

Example 3:
Ketika saya tinggal di Indonesia, saya bertemu dengan banyak orang baik.
When I lived in Indonesia, I met with a lot of good people.

Example 4:
Ketika seorang pria jatuh cinta, dia pasti akan melakukan apa saja.
When a man falls in love, he will do anything for sure.

‘Waktu’ is a noun that means time but is also used as a statement version of when that cannot be used as a question word.

‘Waktu’ as time

Example 5:
Maaf, saya tidak ada waktu untuk membalas SMS kamu
Sorry, I had no time to reply your SMS.

Example 6:
Saya harus mencari waktu untuk bertemu dengan Sinta.
I must find a time to meet with Sinta.

‘Waktu’ as when

Example 7:
Waktu saya tinggal di Medan, saya makan banyak makanan enak.
When I lived in Medan, I ate a lot of good foods.

Example 8:
Nanti waktu saya sudah tua, saya mau tinggal di Swedia.
Later when I’m already old, I want to live in Sweden.

Difference between ‘Ketika’ & ‘Waktu’

Although the two words have almost the same meaning, they are actually used in quite a different way:

1. ‘Ketika‘ tends to be seen as more formal than ‘Waktu’.

2. Both words can be used interchangeably to refer to the past

However, when referring to a foreseeable future, people tend to use the word ‘Waktu’ rather than ‘Ketika’.

For instance, if you’re going to Indonesia and want to tell your Indonesian friends about your future plan, you would rather say:

Waktu saya datang nanti….

When I come later…

3. ‘Ketika‘ is more often used to refer to something hypothetical.

Example 9:
Ketika seorang pria jatuh cinta
When a man falls in love…

Example 10:
Ketika mereka harus memilih
When they have to choose…

A longer example of this will be:

Ketika wanita sedang hamil, mereka tidak boleh berolahraga dengan keras.

When a woman is pregnant, they should not do sports/exercise hardly.

The word ‘waktu’ is rarely used in hypothetical statements like this presumably because it also means time and is much more solid than ‘ketika’.

Have a question regarding this topic? Post your question below!

Difference between ‘Kapan’, ‘Ketika’ and ‘Waktu’

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