Polynesian language spoken by New Zealand Māori
Phrasebooks > Māori phrasebook

The Māori language (te reo Māori) is cherished by the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand as a treasure (taonga) and many Pākehā (New Zealanders of "European" descent) are now learning it. Although it is an official language of New Zealand, along with English and New Zealand Sign Language, only 3.5 percent of New Zealanders (and only 21 percent of ethnic Māori) can conduct a conversation in Māori. Virtually all indigenous Māori speakers are bilingual and converse in English at least equally competently.

Māori is a Polynesian language, and has many cognates with other Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian and Samoan. A number of Māori words have been adopted into everyday New Zealand conversation, even while speaking English, and many place names are of Māori origin. Being able to correctly pronounce Māori words is a valued skill since incorrectly pronounced Māori sounds like fingernails scratching on a blackboard and will immediately identify you as a visitor to the country (or a culturally ignorant local). Even a tolerable and halting attempt at the correct pronunciation is better than a poor guess – your effort to get it right will be appreciated and accepted.

As you might expect, one hundred fifty years ago, accents, vocabularies and word constructions were as variegated as the differences between Glaswegian and Cockney Englishes are today. With many people now having lost their localisations as well as their fluency, new learners are learning less localised and more homogeneous versions.

Māori has a close relationship with the New Zealand variant of English, with many consonants and vowels sharing the same pronunciation. Many English loanwords are also present in Māori for post-European settlement concepts, such as pirihimana (police), tāra (dollar), and Ahitereiria (Australia).

An exception to this process is the native language of the Cook Islands, a completely self governing, tropical outlier of the Realm of New Zealand. Here the language is almost as different from the registers spoken in the North and South islands of New Zealand as Chaucerian English is from Californian. That said, Cook Islanders seem to find it easier to understand "mainland" Māori than the other way around.

Pronunciation guideEdit

The New Zealand Māori language is relatively simple to pronounce.

VowelsEdit

There are five vowel sounds, each with a long and short form:

a
like strut (IPA: ɐ)
ā
like in palm (IPA: ɑː)
e
like dress
ē
longer version of e; roughly like ea in pear
i
like happy (IPA: i)
ī
like fleece (IPA: )
o
a shorter version of ō (IPA: o)
ō
like (non-rhotic) north (IPA: ɔː)
u
a shorter version of ū; roughly like in put (IPA: ʉ)
ū
like goose (IPA: )

There are several vowel blends: ae, ai (as in pie), ao (as in mouth), au (as in goat), ei (as in face), oi (as in choice), oe, and ou

In written Māori, the long vowels are often denoted by macrons (bars over the letters). Sometimes you will see words where a vowel letter is repeated, e.g. the Māori name for Inland Revenue is Te Tari Taake (you can probably guess why they don't spell it Te Tari Tāke). This may indicate that the vowel is pronounced "long", but modern usage is to use the macron when possible.

Thus Māori, Maaori and Maori would all represent the same word; although you will rarely see it spelled "Maaori". You may occasionally see long vowels with a diaeresis ("Mäori") or other marks instead of a macron due to typesetting limitations.

Macrons have tended not to be written when a Māori word has been a commonly used word by people speaking English (including with the word Māori), and macrons have generally not appeared on direction signs or maps; however, as more people become aware of the correct pronunciation of various Māori words and place names, and of the instructive guidance that macrons provide by indicating how words should be pronounced, the use of macrons is increasing in New Zealand society, including in official documents. Some road direction signs for Taupō (both the town and the lake) are now written as Taupō; whereas, prior to 2008, the macron was always missing.

ConsonantsEdit

There are ten consonants in Māori:

h
like hello (IPA: h)
k
like skit (IPA: k)
m
like milk (IPA: m)
n
like nose (IPA: n)
p
like spin (IPA: p)
r
flapped R, like American butter (IPA: ɾ)
t
like still (IPA: t)
w
like will (IPA: w)
wh
like fin (IPA: f)
ng
like sing (IPA: ŋ)

SyllablesEdit

Māori words are broken into syllables which end with a vowel. Place names often consist of morphemes, or words which are combined to give a larger word, e.g. wai (water) and roa (long) are combined to give Wairoa. Try to recognise these morphemes (see the list of geographic expressions below) and pronounce the name by breaking it into its components.

For example:

Akatarawa
is said A ka ta ra wa
Māori
is said Maao-ri (Remember to have your tongue forward when you say the r, so that you make the flap sound).
Paraparaumu
is said Pa-ra-pa-rau-mu (commonly mispronounced Pa-ra-pa-ra-u-mu)
Whangarei
is said Fa nga rei (Fa nga ray)

SemanticsEdit

Māori word root combinations tend to have a major root subject followed by qualifier suffixes. This means a literal translation from Māori to English produces a lot of transposed word combinations.

For example:

  • Rotoruaroto "lake" + rua "two" = "two lakes" (or perhaps second lake, as Ihenga discovered Rotoiti first).
  • kaimoanakai "food" + moana "sea" = "seafood".
  • tangata pūhuruhurutangata "person" + pūhuruhuru "hairy" = "hairy person" (from Te Rauparaha's Ka Mate haka, one of two used by the All Blacks rugby team)

Māori pronouns have singular, dual and plural forms. Therefore pronouns varies depending on whether it refers to one, two, or three or more people:

  • Kei te pai ahau. → I am fine. (one person)
  • Kei te pai māua. → We are fine. (two people)
  • Kei te pai mātou. → We are fine. (three or more people)

Phrase listEdit

An ordinary traveller will not need to resort to speaking Māori to make themselves understood. However an understanding of Māori words and their meanings will lead to an appreciation of the culture and enhance the travel experience.

Māori take meetings and greetings seriously. Visitors and honoured guests will often be welcomed in a formal ceremony known as a pōwhiri. While such ceremonies generally take place on a marae, it has become accepted practice that such ceremonies may also take place at conferences, important meetings, and similar ceremonial occasions. On such formal occasions, protocol will normally mean that a representative or adviser who can speak Māori will be assigned to the visitors' party to assist and explain what is happening and may formally speak (whaikorero) to introduce the visitors.

Donation
Koha

BasicsEdit

Hello (to one person)
Tēnā koe (Teh-NAH kweh)
Hello (to two people)
Tēnā kōrua (Teh-NAH KAW-roo-ah)
Hello (to a group of three or more)
Tēnā koutou (Teh-NAH koh-toh)
Hello (informal)
Kia ora (KEE aw-rah)
Welcome
Nau mai / Haere mai (HIGH-reh MIGH)
(often used together, e.g. Nau mai, haere mai ki Aotearoa. "Welcome to New Zealand".)
How are you?
Kei te pēhea koe?
(Kei te pēhea kōrua? to two people, Kei te pēhea koutou? to three or more people)
Fine, thank you
Kei te pai ahau.
What is your name?
Ko wai tō ingoa?
My name is ______
Ko ______ tōku ingoa.
Please
koa (Homai koa he kaputi = Give me a cup of tea, please )
Thank you
kia ora
Yes
āe
No
kāore; kāo
Goodbye (to the person staying)
E noho rā (Eh naw-haw RAH)
Goodbye (to the person going)
Haere rā (HIGH-reh RAH)
Goodbye (informal)
Hei konei rā
Do you speak English?
Kei te kōrero reo Pākehā koe?
Good morning.
Ata mārie
Good afternoon.
Ahiahi mārie
Good night.
Pō mārie
I don't understand
Kaore au i te orotau.
Where is the toilet?
Kei hea te wharepaku?

NumbersEdit

1
tahi (tah-hee)
2
rua (roo-ah)
3
toru (taw-roo)
4
whā (fah)
5
rima (ree-ma)
6
ono (o-naw)
7
whitu (fih-too)
8
waru (wah-roo)
9
iwa (ee-wah)
10
tekau (teh-koh)
11
tekau ma tahi
12
tekau ma rua
13
tekau ma toru
14
tekau ma whā
15
tekau ma rima
16
tekau ma ono
17
tekau ma whitu
18
tekau ma waru
19
tekau ma iwa
20
rua tekau
21
rua tekau ma taki
22
rua tekau ma rua
23
rua tekau ma toru
30
toru tekau
40
whā tekau
50
rima tekau
60
ono tekau
70
whitu tekau
80
waru tekau
90
iwa tekau
100
kotahi rau
200
rua rau
300
toru rau
1000
kotahi mano
2000
rua mano
1,000,000
kotahi miriona
1,000,000,000
kotahi piriona

TimeEdit

morning
ata
afternoon
ahiahi
night
maruāpō

Clock timeEdit

one o'clock AM
kotahi karaka i te ata
two o'clock AM
rua karaka i te ata
midday
poupoutanga o te rā
one o'clock PM
kotahi karaka i te ahiahi
two o'clock PM
rua karaka i te ahiahi

DurationEdit

_____ day(s)
_____ rā
_____ week(s)
_____ wiki
_____ month(s)
_____ marama
_____ year(s)
_____ tau

DaysEdit

today
tēnei rā
yesterday
tērā rā
tomorrow
āpōpō
Monday
Rāhina / Mane
Tuesday
Rātū / Turei
Wednesday
Rāapa / Wenerei
Thursday
Rāpare / Taite
Friday
Rāmere / Paraire
Saturday
Rāhoroi / Hatarei
Sunday
Rātapu / Wiki

MonthsEdit

January
Kohitātea / Hanuere
February
Hui-tanguru / Pēpuere
March
Poutū-te-rangi / Maehe
April
Pāenga-whāwhā / Āperira
May
Haratua / Mei
June
Pīpiri / Hune
July
Hōngongoi / Hūrae
August
Here-turi-kōkā / Ākuhata
September
Mahuru / Hepetema
October
Whiringa-ā-nuku / Ōketopa
November
Whiringa-ā-rangi / Noema
December
Hakihea / Tīhema

Writing times and datesEdit

Time and dates in Māori follow the same order as New Zealand English, with the date first, the month second, and the year last.

ColoursEdit

black
pango
white
grey
kiwikiwi
red
whero
blue
kikorangi
yellow
kōwhai
green
kākāriki
orange
parakaraka
purple
tawa
brown
pākākā

TransportEdit

DirectionsEdit

Where is _____?
Kei hea _____?
... the airport?
te taunga rererangi?
... the train station?
te teihana rerewē?
... the bus station?
te teihana pahi?
left
mauī
right
katau / matau
north
raki; tokerau
south
tonga
east
rāwhiti
west
hauāuru; uru

Eating and drinkingEdit

I'm a vegetarian.
He kaimanga ahau.
(careful with the vowel length - He kaimānga ahau means "I'm an invalid"!)
I don't eat pork.
Kaore he mīti poaka i te kai.
I don't eat beef.
Kaore he mīti kau i te kai.
breakfast
parakuihi
lunch
tina
dinner
hapa
I want _____.
He _____ aku hiahia.
chicken
mīti heihei
beef
mīti kau
fish
ika
ham
poaka whakapaoa
sausages
tōtiti
cheese
tīhi
eggs
huamanu / hēki
salad
huamata
(fresh) vegetables
huawhenua
(fresh) fruit
hua rākau
bread
parāoa
toast
tōhi
rice
raihi
beans
pīni
salt
tote
black pepper
pepa
sugar
huka
butter
pata
One (two) beer, please
Homai koa (e rua) he pia.
A cup of tea, please
Homai koa he kaputī.
wine (red/white)
wāina (whero/mā)
coffee
kawhe
orange juice
wai ārani
milk
waiū / miraka
water
wai

ShoppingEdit

How much is it?
He aha te utu?
dollar
tāra
cent
hēneti

Place namesEdit

New Zealand
Aotearoa ("long white cloud")
North Island
Te Ika-a-Māui ("the fish of Māui")
South Island
Te Waipounamu ("the greenstone (jade) waters")'
Auckland
Tāmaki-makau-rau ("Tāmaki of a thousand lovers")
Hamilton
Kirikiriroa ("long stretch of gravel")
Rotorua
Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamamoe ("the second great lake of Kahumatamamoe")
Wellington
Te Whanganui-a-Tara ("the great harbour of Tara"); Te Upoko-o-te-Ika ("the head of the fish")
Christchurch
Ōtautahi ("of Tautahi")
Mount Cook
Aoraki ("cloud piercer")
Milford Sound
Piopiotahi ("one piopio [New Zealand thrush]")
Stewart Island
Rakiura ("glowing skies")

Glossary of Māori geographical terms translated into EnglishEdit

Knowing a little about these terms will help you to both pronounce the name and understand what it means.

ana
cave
awa
river, channel
hau
wind
iti
small
kai
food; however, if prefixing a verb, it's the agentive modifier (equivalent to English -er or -ist, e.g. mahi "to work", kaimahi "worker")
manga
stream (e.g. Mangawhio: in South Taranaki = blue duck stream)
maunga
mountain
moana
sea, large lake (e.g. Waikaremoana: in the western Hawke's Bay region = sea of rippling water)
motu
island
nga
the (plural form)
nui
big, great
one
beach, sand, soil
kohatu
rock
papa
flat
poto
short
puke
hill (e.g. Te Puke: in the Bay of Plenty region = the hill)
rangi
sky, heavens
roa
long
roto
lake (e.g. Rotoiti: in the Bay of Plenty region = small lake)
tai
tide, sea
tangi
weep, cry
tapu
sacred
tara
peak, ray of sunshine
te
the (singular form)
toka
rock
wera
burning, burnt
whanga
bay, harbour (e.g. Whanganui = big harbour)
whenua
land

Many place names have been made tautological by Europeans adding a word which is already contained in the Māori name (example: Mount Maunganui = "Mount big mountain"). However, there has been a trend for New Zealand English speakers to drop the English geographic qualifier and refer to many geographic features by their Māori names alone. Thus, Mount Ruapehu is often referred to simply as Ruapehu. In some cases, there has been a reversion to Māori names and outdated travel information may only use the old name. For example, Mount Egmont is now almost universally called Taranaki or Mount Taranaki and Mount Cook is now officially called Aoraki/Mount Cook; these are the original Māori names. In other cases the Māori name is followed by a pluralising s where the omitted English geographic term was plural. So the Rimutakas is used in place of the Rimutaka ranges. In conversation you may hear phrases like the Waikato or the Manawatu. In these cases the speaker is talking about either the river of that name or a district or region. For example, the Waikato will refer to either the Waikato river or the Waikato region, while Waikato (without the) would probably refer to the region, though this may need to be inferred from the context.

Learning moreEdit

Māori is taught in many places around New Zealand, often as a night class. Ask at the local information centre or citizens advice bureau. The Māori Language Commission also has a list of course providers. There are also Māori television channels that you can watch to improve your listening skills.

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