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.


Syllables and Even Smaller Things

This post is an explanation of what morae, syllables and diphthongs are and how they are formed. In a sense it is a beginner’s topic because it deals with some absolute basics, but on the other hand its probably more interesting later on when you can form your own connnections to the rest of your te reo Māori knowledge. I found it interesting because it revealed a lot to me about how the language works.

The topic of mora/morae isn’t something that is mentioned in te reo Māori text books, but is rather a concept discussed in the phonology section of grammar books. This doesn’t mean that it is complicated but I think that it is something that becomes clearer over time as you get used to the concepts.

What is a mora in Māori?

The smallest units from which Māori words can be created are morae (singular: mora, plural: morae). A mora consists of a vowel, and an optional consonant – so the form of morae can be depicted as (C)V. Examples of a single mora include: i, u, ki, ta.

>In Māori, wh and ng are a single consonent – we’ve just chosen to depict them as two letters. So whe and ngo are one mora, consisting of one consonant and one vowel.

In Māori we have 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, u – but these vowels can be combined in pairs to create long vowels which we write with a macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. Each of these vowels-with-macrons are two vowels, we’ve just chosen to depict them as a single letter. Thus all the long vowels using a macron are 2 morae of the form VV, e.g. ā is actually aa.

The word “Māori” has 4 morae: Ma – a – o – ri.


A mora is NOT exactly the same as a syllable. This is why the concept of morae is so useful in Māori. There are a couple of things that people get a bit confused trying to understand or explain because they are using the concept of a syllable, which is almost right but not quite; having the concept of a mora helps to understand some Māori grammar rules better.

The mora has been defined by James D McCawley (linguist) as “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one”.

As an aside, I felt SO gratified when I read this definition because ever since I first learnt about syllables (in English), I’ve been puzzled about why some are longer than others. I’d taken to calling long syllables as “one and a half” syllables because I didn’t have any other words for them. I now know they are one syllable with 2 (or more) morae!

Here are some examples of syllables in Māori: a, ki, o, ta, kī, ai, tai, mā, māo, tēi.

A syllable may consist of one mora (V or CV), two morae (VV or CVV) or even 3 morae (CVVV) – you can see examples of each in the list above. Here we have short syllables which have only one mora, and long syllables that have 2 morae – or longer ones consisting of three, not mentioned by McCawley in his famous definition.

The word “Māori” consists of 2 syllables: Māo – ri.

Try saying some of the multi-morae syllables out loud; if you say “ai” can you hear and feel that this consists of two parts. Can you see why I used to get confused and call this “1.5 syllables”?

Note that not all combinations of vowels will create a single syllable – i.e. just because it is of the form (C)VV doesn’t mean it is one syllable – it might be two, as explained in the next section.

Diphthongs and vowel combos

Not all sequences of vowels will combine into one syllable. The combinations “ai” and “ia” both consist of two morae in the form VV. However, “ai” is one syllable whereas “ia” is two. Try saying these out loud to hear the difference.

The combination “ai” flows together into one sound and forms a single syllable consisting of 2 morae. When this happens the vowel combination is called a diphthong. The combination “ia” maintains the i and a as distinct sounds, creating two syllables (each consisting of one mora).

Of course you can combine consonants with the vowels too: thus kai is a one syllable word, kia is a two syllable word.

The diphthongs in Māori are: ae, ai, ao, au, oe, oi, ou, ei, eu. These create a single syllable. You can also have long diphthongs – these are when the diphthongs listed above contain a long vowel, for example āe or āo.

Other vowel combinations not listed in the diphthongs are two syllables.

Knowing about morae helps you understand how Māori is put together, and gives you a better understanding of the pronunciation of vowel combinations. If you go on to get into some really nitty-gritty parts of Māori linguisitics then you will want to understand morae too. The next post is about how the number of morae comes into play in some common Māori sentences.

Note: mora and morae are not Māori words, they just look like them!

Haumi e, Hui e, Taiki e

One thing about learning a language like Māori is that you will also encounter various elements of Māori culture besides the language. In fact, even if you aren’t learning Māori, if you live in New Zealand, you will likely (hopefully) encounter these things anyway. This doesn’t happen so much if you’re learning French in New Zealand, for instance. You can get away with just learning the French language and book-learning the cultural elements as you likely won’t encounter them in your everyday life here.

This post is about the words that you might hear at the end of a karakia (prayer, blessing, chant, or similar). This might be at a marae or in a Māori class, but also might be said at the end of a speech opening a conference or at an end-of-year work dinner.

Even if you have no idea what the rest of the korero (speech) was about, after hearing a few you might start to recognise a common refrain at the end of the karakia that goes “haumi e, hui e, TAIKI E.” The parts in capital letters are said by everyone, whereas the lower caps section is said by the speaker. So it goes thus:

  1. Speaker: (some words in Māori…) haumi e, hui e
  2. Everyone: TAIKI E

This is basically a ritual ending which is pretty impossible to translate meaningfully, but is a bit like everyone saying “Amen” together at the end of a prayer, but means something along the lines of “join, gather, unite”. Its just something you say.

The pronunciation of “taiki e” is like “tie key e” with the “e” being said like the first “e” in “everyone”.  Say it with feeling, and fairly slowly.

There are a few options for the line immediately preceeding “haumi e, hui e, taiki e” but one is “kia tina, TINA” which provides another opportunity to join in and goes like this:

  1. Speaker: (some words in Māori…) kia tina
  2. Everyone: TINA
  3. Speaker: haumi e, hui e
  4. Everyone: TAIKI E

The word “tina” is also relatively untranslateable here, but means something like “fix it” or “make it firm”. The pronounciation of “tina” is like the name “Tina” but make sure you pronounce both syllables strongly and clearly, a bit like you were angry at Tina – Tina!

If you want to hear what these sound like, this short video on YouTube provides two examples of karakia said by a group of people, finishing with these words. The second example in the video as a fantastic, emotive example of a guy calling out the words for everyone to respond to.


All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 4

Creating new group names with Ngāti

In the previous posts about Ngāti and Ngāi, we have seen that most iwi and hapū will use one or the other of these words – usually Ngāti – in their iwi name to indicate that they are the descendents of the same eponymous ancestor. Identifying yourself as a member of a particular iwi establishes that you are part of a particular group, and this is another way in which Ngāti is now being used.

Wikipedia says “Ngāti has become a productive morpheme in New Zealand English to refer to groups of people” – i.e. Ngāti has become part of our language and is now used to create new words. The examples provided on Wikipedia include Ngāti Pākehā – referring to Pākehā as a group; Ngāti Rānana – Māori living in London; and Ngāti Tūmataunga – the Māori language name for the NZ army.

As we saw when talking about Ngāti vs. Ngāi, Ngāti is the correct word to use to create these new group names as Ngāi is only used in certain cases – useful to know as otherwise its easy for beginners, particularly non-Māori beginners, to forget which to use when identifiying as part of a non-Māori group, e.g. Ngāti Pākehā, Ngāti Kōtimana (Scottish), Ngāti Tiamana (German), etc.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 3

When neither Ngāti or Ngāi are used

In the list of iwi I used in my previous two posts, you might have noticed I was quite particular about which examples I used and how I wrote them. What if my list had been like this:

  • Kāi Tahu
  • Kāti Mamoe
  • Tūhoe
  • Te Arawa

Where’s all our Ngāi and Ngāti now, eh?!

So, first up are Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe. These are two South Island iwi, Kāti Mamoe being an historic iwi present before Kāi Tahu, and many Kāi Tahu Māori whakapapa (link genealogically) back to Kāti Mamoe. Kāi Tahu uses a different dialect of te reo Māori, one of the most noticable differences being the lack of the “ng” sound, and the usage instead of “k”. This transforms Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe into Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe.

Next is Tūhoe. I’m not sure why, but some iwi are commonly known by their name without the Ngāi/Ngāti signifier on the front. However for these iwi, like with Tūhoe, you can still use their “full name”, e.g. Ngāi Tūhoe.

Lastly, we have Te Arawa. Although generally used in the same way as an iwi name, Wikipedia informs me that Te Arawa is actually a “confederation of iwi and hapu” who trace their ancestry back to the Arawa waka. Thus it would not make sense to use Ngāti or Ngāi in the name as Te Arawa is a waka and not the eponymous ancester from which they are descended. Similarly, the Waikato-Tainui iwi, a.k.a. Waikato, take their name from the Waikato river, and the Tainui waka.

So as you can see, although using Ngāti/Ngāi is the most common way to identify an iwi or hapū, it is not the only way.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 2

Ngāti vs. Ngāi –  What’s the difference

In the last post, I mentioned that Ngāi and Ngāti indicate that the iwi are “descendents of” whomever their iwi is named after.

For example, this list of selected iwi:

  • Ngāti Porou
  • Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Ngāti Tūwharetoa
  • Ngāi Tahu
  • Ngāi Tūhoe

But why do we have two words – Ngāti and Ngāi – which are very similar sounding and used for the same purpose? Why isn’t there just one word? And why is one used sometimes and the other used at other times?

Firstly, Ngāti is the most common word of the two, essentially the default. So if you can’t remember which word goes with a particular iwi, guess “Ngāti” and you will usually be correct.

You’ll notice in the list above that the two iwi with Ngāi in their name both begin with “T”. This is not a coincidence. Ngāi is only used before iwi names that begin with “T”, such as Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāi Tahu. Not all iwi beginning with “T” use Ngāi – for example Ngāti Tūwharetoa doesn’t.

  • If it begins with “T” it might use Ngāi
  • If it doesn’t begin with “T” it will always use Ngāti

It seems likely to me that Ngāi is a shortened version of Ngāti, which makes certain iwi names easier, or perhaps nicer, to say without a double t-sound – similar to how we use a/an depending on the initial sound of the following word.


Other posts in this series:

All about Ngāti and Ngāi – Part 1

What Ngāti and Ngāi mean

If you have ever encountered anything or anyone even remotely Māori, you will have encountered the words Ngāi and Ngāti which precede the names of various iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes) – I’ll just write iwi from now on rather than refer to both iwi and hapū every time.

For example, this list of selected iwi:

  • Ngāti Porou
  • Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Ngāti Tūwharetoa
  • Ngāi Tahu
  • Ngāi Tūhoe

So what do these two words mean? Or do they mean anything at all?

Well, the general meaning of these words is “the descendents of”, meaning that the members of the iwi are descendents of the named ancester who founded that iwi. So, Ngāti Kahungunu are the descendents of a common ancestor named Kahungunu. Ngāti Porou are descended from Porourangi a.k.a. Porou Ariki. Ngāi Tahu‘s eponymous ancestor is Tahupōtiki, Ngāi Tūhoe descend from Tūhoe-pōtiki, and so on.

Now that you know this, some of the Māori stories and histories that you hear may have more meaning as you recognise some famous names and associate them with their iwi. You will also understand why those names and people are so important to those iwi.


Other posts in this series: