Learn Indonesian: Week 3 Installment

Sedang vs. Lagi

One of the most useful, but also most confusing, words in the Indonesian language is lagi. This is largely because it has multiple meanings and uses, some of which are extremely common in  colloquial Indonesian but rarely covered in formal ”learn Indonesian books”. This post aims to clear up the difference between these two words so that Indonesian beginners can use them more accurately and effectively. Once you have mastered lagi, it can make a significant difference to your communicative ability.


Let’s start with sedang, which poses some problems of its own for the beginner. Sedang can be an adjective which means average / medium / normal / regular. For example, a medium-sized soft-drink at the movies is sometimes described as being sedang– not big or small. I have also heard people describe their height or weight as sedang, meaning around about average.

There is a secondary meaning, however. Indonesian does not have tenses but this second sedang has a function similar to the progressive / continuous tense in English. The key concept here is that the action is ”in progress” or ”still happening”.

Here are the kinds of examples you might find in an Indonesian grammar book:

Siti sedang mengepel lantai.                 Siti is mopping the floor.

Saya sedang makan nasi goreng.         I am eating fried rice.

While these statements are grammacally correct, Indonesians will often find them too formal for most settings. Therefore, it is also necessary to get to know lagi, the informal equivalent of sedang.


As I have already said, lagi also has a couple of uses. In my experience, many expats use it only to mean ”again”. They don’t realize it has a colloquial use in the Jakarta variant of Indonesian to mean ”happening now”.

The first use of Indonesian, to mean ”again” or ”once more”, is shown by the following example taken from social media:

Apa nanti sore kita bisa ketemu lagi, Pak?       Can we meet again this afternoon, Mister?

It is also commonly used to order ”one more” in bars or restaurants.    Satu lagi, Mas!

But it is also often uses to mean something like ”in progress” or ”in the process of”. In other words, it can have a function very similar to sedang.

Here are some examples of formal versus informal Indonesian:

Ibu Mariam sedang apa? (formal)                 Ibu Mariam lagi ngapain?  (informal)         What are you doing, Ibu Mariam?

 Anda sedang di mana? (formal)                   Kamu lagi di mana? (informal)                  Where are you now?

As common as this second use of lagi is, you will rarely find it included in Indonesian dictionaries or grammar books. Nonetheless, it is essential to make the distinction if you want to understand everyday communication in Indonesia.

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