Using Morae with ‘e’

In this post I’m going to talk about how we can use our understanding of morae to better understand some grammar rules. You can read about morae in the previous post.

Even if you have just started learning Māori, you will have learnt about the little word “e” which is used at the start of certain phrases – but only in front of some words and not others. Well, whether or not to use “e” is determined by the number of morae! Note: we’re not talking about “e” as a tense marker like in e…ana, but rather like in the examples below.

Here’s some examples of the types of sentences we’re talking about:

  1. Greetings:  Kia ora, e Hone. vs. Kia ora, Anahera.
  2. Commands:  E tū! vs. Haere mai!
  3. Numbers:  E rua aku pene. vs. Tekau aku pene.

The rule is:

If there are fewer than 3 morae, use ‘e’; if there are 3 or more morae, skip the ‘e’.

You can kind of see it as making sure the word is long enough – if there’s not enough morae, you need to add one in in the form of ‘e’.

These structures are sometimes explained in terms of having “2 or fewer syllables” which as we know from the previous post, is close but not quite right as you can have a single syllable with two (or more) morae. The rule is also often explained in terms of the number of vowels – if there are 2 or fewer vowels then use ‘e’. This is actually correct because our definition of a mora is that it is of the form (C)V, i.e. one vowel and an optional consonant. So you can count the vowels and you will be counting the morae – so long as you remember letters like ā represent two vowels: aa.

I’m not going to go into the grammar structures in detail as I just want to highlight the use of morae with them and hopefully you already know them, or if not they are covered in any text book.

Our grammar rules for the three cases are as follows:

  1. Use e before a (Māori) name or a term of address if there are fewer than 3 morae, e.g. Kia ora, e Hone (2 morae: Ho – ne)
  2. In a command, use e before the verb if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E tū! (2 morae: tu – u)
    • This is only for single word verbs without any additional words added, e.g. if it was Tū mai then we don’t use e
  3. When saying how many things there are, use e before the number if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E rua (2 morae: ru – a)

Even if you already knew the rule “use e for fewer than 3 vowels” hopefully it was interesting to learn about the rule in terms of morae as it encompasses the structure of the whole word rather than just the vowels. For me personally, it seems more concrete and less arbitrary to think in terms of morae rather than vowels.

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