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:
- Greetings: Kia ora, e Hone. vs. Kia ora, Anahera.
- Commands: E tū! vs. Haere mai!
- 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:
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
In my post The Most Basic of Basics I briefly talked about using kia ora to say hello to someone.
However, kia ora is a very useful word, beyond saying hello. It kind of also functions as a general word for politeness and acknowledgement.
You may find that these uses fill a gap that you weren’t sure how to express in te reo Māori, as these types of colloquial uses aren’t usually covered in textbooks or classes.
Hello – to start with, we can frame hello as part of the acknowledgement theme as saying kia ora to someone as a greeting is in effect an acknowledgement.
Thank you/thanks – you can say kia ora to thank someone and to acknowledge their action. For example, if someone hands you something, or does something for you. Similarly, if someone has just given an answer or volunteered in class, it might be acknowledged with kia ora.
Good work/I respect or admire that – if someone has done something worthy, you can say kia ora to acknowledge that. For example, someone says they’ve started studying, or they’re volunteering at a charity, or done something you think is impressive or cool, you can interject with kia ora in a tone of admiration.
Good point/I agree – similar to the above, but in this case used when you are listening to someone speaking or actually giving a speech and feel they made a good point, or you support or agree with what they are saying.
Bye/see ya – if someone is leaving and you have to throw out a quick good-bye-nice-to-see-you-I’m-not-ignoring-you, you can use kia ora. You can also just use kia ora as a general good-bye.
Thanks for reading and see you later – Kia ora!
This is a quick bonus post in my current series about greetings!
“Mōrena!” is a quick and easy greeting meaning “Morning!” You can click this link to hear a rather uninspriring rendition of this greeting. I encourage you to say it with more enthusiasm!
Mōrena is a transliteration of the English word “morning”, and its pretty easy to pronounce as the first sound is the same in both words. Be careful though – you can only use this word to mean “(good) morning” – you can’t use it to mean “morning” in any other contexts (for example, you couldn’t use it in the phrase “see you in the morning”).
In my last post, I mentioned that when I was in primary school I found it very confusing to learn different ways to say “hello” to different numbers of people. However, I think that as adults we can probably handle it ok, and it does provide a useful introduction to the different words used.
I think it is important, before starting, to mention that the 3 forms for “you” used in these greetings are not unique to these phrases; these words are useful in all sorts of sentences, this is just an easy way to introduce them and learn one thing at a time.
So, without further ado:
(Each of the Māori greetings above has a link to Māori Dictionary where you can hear them spoken, but there are many more places where you can find sound files and videos too.)
These ways of saying “hello” are a bit more formal than simply saying kia ora (kia ora is more like “hi”). Literally these phrases mean “there you are”. The koe/kōrua/koutou is the “you” part of the phrase, and koe/kōrua/koutou are used in any sentence when in English you would use the word “you” – but in te reo Māori you have to think about how many people you’re referring to. In English we did used to use thou for singular “you” and you for plural “you”, but eventually thou was dropped. So using different words for “you” is a bit of a change for a modern English speaker!
Here are some examples to start you thinking about using these greetings:
- So if you are saying “hello” to just one person, maybe your boss, you say Tēnā koe
- If you are saying “hello” to two people, maybe two guests waiting at reception, you would say Tēnā kōrua
- And if you were saying “hello” to a group of 3 or more people, for example at a meeting with your colleagues or to a room of people at a conference, you would say Tēnā koutou
For some people, it can seem like a lot to be learning so many ways to say “hello” rather than just learning one and then moving on to something else, but (besides the fact that you need to learn these at some point anyway) it is useful to start thinking about using these 3 different versions of the pronoun “you” as this is a big concept to get used to in te reo Māori.
I remember that when I was at primary school, we learnt some Māori. I was not impressed. We learnt multiple ways to say hello and goodbye, and I couldn’t understand why you had to use different words for different numbers of people, or for if they were staying or going. I couldn’t remember them, and it made no sense to me.
So that’s why I’d make this my introductory lesson in te reo Māori:
Kia ora! A nice simple way to say hello. It literally means “be well” which makes it a really positive thing to say. Say it to as many people as you like, to whomever you like. Its more informal than the other options, but for the most part this’ll be fine. Just like you probably say “hello” rather than “good morning”, informal is the Kiwi way. You’ll hear Kia ora said in a variety of different ways, but use the link above to hear one way.
Ka kite! A simple say to say bye, see you. Literally this means “(I) will see (you)”. This is also very informal, but when you’re a beginner, “ka kite” is easy to remember and easy to pronounce . It also provides a foundation to learning longer variations later, and leads into some of the initial grammar. I couldn’t find an audio file for just ka kite but you can click here to hear kite and a longer phrase beginning with ka kite.