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First Lessons in Maori

IV. Definitives

IV. Definitives.

§ 17. Definitives

are those words which define or determine the force of the nouns to which they are applied. The name includes what are commonly called articles, demonstrative adjectives, possessive pronouns, and the possessive cases of nouns.

A definitive in Polynesian differs grammatically from an adjective in that it stands immediately before, while the adjective stands after, the word to which it refers.

In a Maori sentence every common noun will normally be preceded by a definitive, and by one only.*

§ 18. The Definitives in Maori comprise:—


The articles, te, pl. nga, the; taua, pl. aua, the aforesaid, (§ 19); he, sing. a, some, pl. some or untranslated.

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The indefinite pronouns, tētahi, one, a, certain, some; pl. ētahi, some, certain, (§ 21).


The demonstrative adjectives, (tēnei, this; tēna, that; tēra, that, the other (opposed to this or that); with their plurals, ēnei, ēna, ēra; and ia, that, (which has no plural). (§ 21).


The interrogative pronouns, tēhea, pl. ēhea, which.


The possessive pronouns, tāku, tōku, my; tāu, tōu, thy; tāna, tōna, his, her; and their plurals, āku, ōku, etc. (§ 6).


The possessives, formed by using one of the particles, tā, tō, ā, ō, (§ 6), with a dual or plural personal pronoun, a local noun, (§ 8), the name of a person or place, or with a common noun which follows any of the definitives in the preceding classes except he in class (a). (See § 22).

  • Toku whare, my house.

  • Enei kowhatu, these stones.

  • He whare, a house, or houses.

  • Ta Hamo kuri, Hamo's dog.

  • To tenei tangata kainga, this man's dwelling place.

The possessive particles ta and to may be resolved into the article and preposition, thus Te kuri a Hamo is equivalent to Ta Hamo kuri, and Te kainga o tenei tangata is equivalent to To tenei tangata kainga. Similarly in the plural we may say either, A Hamo kuri, or Nga kuri a Hamo.

§ 19. Peculiarities of the articles.

(a) The articles, te, nga, taua, aua, and he are used only as adjuncts standing before a noun. This usage distinguishes them from the other definitives, any of which may be used absolutely, standing alone as the page 18 principal or primary in a sentence. The demonstrative, ia, standing alone is the personal pronoun for the third person singular.

  • Nāku tēnei, nāu tēna, this is mine, that is yours.

  • Nui ke atu tōu whare i tōku, your house is larger than mine.

(b) When a common noun is used to denote a class, as is often done in English by the use of the simple plural, use te in the singular, and not he.

  • He pai te kūkū hei kai, pigeons are good for food.

  • Te kūkū, the pigeon; i.e., pigeons in general.

(c) The use of taua or aua implies that the word to which it is applied has been mentioned before. It will generally be sufficiently translated by the, occasionally by that. It is sometimes used where the person or thing referred to, though not previously mentioned, is notorious or well known.

  • Katahi ano taua tangata ra ka titiro whakatau atu, then the man looked intently.

  • Tutaki ana i taua wahine nei e wero manu ana māna, he met the (well known) woman who was spearing birds for herself.

(d) Never use he after a preposition, but substitute tetahi.

  • He tangata, a man.

  • Ki tetahi tangata, to a man.

§ 20. Possessive Prepositions following Definitives.

(a) When a possessive follows a noun preceded by he, always use one of the prepositions na or no, never a or o.

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  • He mara kumara naku, a kumara field of mine, or belonging to me.

  • He whare no tenei tangata, a house belonging to this man, or of this man's.

(b) When a possessive follows a noun preceded by any other definitive than he, always use one of the prepositions a or o, never na or no.

  • Te toki a Rita, Rita's axe.

  • Tenei taha oku, this side of me.

  • Taua whare o Hamo, that house of Hamo's.

§ 21.

The demonstratives tenei, tena, tera, are equivalent to the article te and the adverbs nei, na, ra, respectively; and we may say indifferently Tenei tangata, or Te tangata nei. So also in the plural; Era whare, may be replaced by Nga whare ra. Tenei denotes that the thing spoken of is near or in some way connected with the speaker; tena, that it is near, or in some way connected with the person spoken to; tera, that it is at a distance from, or unconnected with either the speaker or the person spoken to, and similarly with their respective plurals.

Ia is generally used distributively for each, both it and the noun being repeated. Tenei, tena, tera, and tetahi may also be used in the same way.

  • Ia tangata, ia tangata, each man.

  • Tenei rōpū, tenei rōpū o ratou, each company of them.

  • I hoatu e ia he kai ki tetahi ki tetahi o ratou, he gave food to each of them.

Tena may often be rendered by this, when the thing spoken of is contrasted with something at a distance, and not with an object near or connected with the speaker.

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Tera is often used in an emphatic way for the personal pronoun of the third person singular.

  • Kua tae tera ki Mokoia, he has arrived at Mokoia.

Tenei, tena, tetahi, tera, and the possessives often stand alone, the noun being understood.

  • Naku tenei, nau tena, this is mine, that is yours.

  • He rangatira taua tangata, that man is a chief.

  • Pai ke atu taku i ta Turi, mine is better than Turi's.

When contrast is implied, tetahi, with or without atu, means another. Tetahi may be repeated either with or without a noun, to signify one and the other or another.

  • Ki te pai ki tenei tangata, e pai ana; ki te pai ki tetahi atu, e pai ana, if you approve of this man, it is well; if you approve of another, it is well.

  • Ko nga tuākana ki tetahi taha, ko ia ki tetahi taha, the brothers were at one side, and he at the other.

  • Kua oti tetahi karakia, e whai ana ki tetahi, when one spell had been finished, they followed with another.

A further use of tetahi is to form a reciprocal, representing one another or each other.

  • I titiro whakatau raua tetahi ki tetahi, they looked intently at one another.

But, if there is no ambiguity, this is often expressed by the simple use of raua.

  • Kua kitekite noa ake raua i a raua, they had seen one another freely.

§ 22.

The difference between a and o, which applies also to na, no, ma, mo, ta, to, taku, toku, etc., is this: page 21 a is used in speaking of (a) transitive actions including works accomplished or in progress, (b) movable property, instruments, (c) food, (d) husband, wife, children, slaves, etc.; o in speaking of (e) intransitive actions, (f) parts of anything, names, qualities, (g) feelings, (h) houses, land, canoes, (i) inhabitants, (j) water for drinking, medicine, clothes, (k) parents, and other relatives (except husband tane, wife wahine, and children or grandchildren with their collaterals; but uri takes o), superiors, companions (including hoa when applied to husband or wife), also (l) with derivative nouns (§§ 58 and 68) of adjectives, participles, and intransitive verbs and with those of transitive verbs when they are used in a passive sense.


Te tahunga a Raumati i a Te Arawa, Raumati's burning of the Arawa (canoe).


Nga tao a Manaia, Manaia's spears.


He kai mau, food for you.


Te wahine a Rua me ana tamariki, Rua's wife and his children.


To raua totohe ki a raua, their contending with one another.


Te pakitara o te whare, the wall of the house.


Te aroha o Kuiwai ki a Manaia, Kuiwai's love for Manaia.


Te whare o Tinirau, Tinirau's house.


Nga tangata o tenei motu, the men of this island.


He wai mo Te Ponga, some water for Te Ponga.


Nga tungane me nga teina o to raua whaea, the brothers and younger sisters of their mother.


Te hokinga o Kupe ki Hawaiki, Kupe's return to Hawaiki.

Te tahunga o Te Arawa e Raumati, the burning of the Arawa (canoe) by Raumati.


Taku ingoa (f) mou, my name for you (i.e., the name which I have given you).

* With the prepositions hei, for, to serve as, and a, after the manner of, (§ 15), no definitive is used. Other exceptions are treated in an article in the “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” Vol. 38, p. 60.