This is the first post in a hopefully regular series about the deceptively easy-to-learn Bahasa Malaysia.
Tentang and mengenai are words often used interchangeably by the populace, used as the equivalent of the English “about”.
My argument is that translation-wise, tentang is the preferred word for about.
“Tentang” is a kata sendi nama or the equivalent of the English preposition (not proposition, you dirty, dirty minds).
Mereka berbincang tentang masalah negara. (They spoke about the country’s problems)
Kami berbual tentang kejadian rompakan itu. (We spoke about the robbery)
Other kata sendi nama include: di,ke,dari,daripada,kepada,pada,bagi,demi,tentang,sejak,seperti,akan,terhadap,oleh,hingga,antara, untuk,dengan,dalam,sampai.
Notice that mengenai is not listed. This is because mengenai is actually a kata kerja (verb) that means kena pada (to hit).
Tembakan pemburu itu mengenai sasarannya. (The hunter’s shot hit its target)
Bola yang ditendangnya mengenai palang gol. (The ball that he/she kicked hit the goal post)
Does this mean that you can’t use mengenai to mean about?
Not necessarily. This is because mengenai, like melalui (to go through), mengikuti (to follow), and menerusi (via) are all words used as prepositions, despite being in actuality verbs.
My personal leanings is that if you mean “about” or wish to translate “about”, use tentang as your first choice but use mengenai as a variation.
For instance, say “Hari ini saya ingin bercakap tentang buku Hakim Salleh mengenai beruang.” But some might prefer to use mengenai instead, which is a personal choice but here’s a pro-tip:
Few things mark your amateurish grip of the language as much as overuse of mengenai. It’s not a bad word, but use tentang as well, whenever its use is warranted.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.