In Indo-European languages such as English, German, Greek, French, Spanish, even Russian or Sanskrit, we are accustomed to the presence of certain features in verbs. They always carry specific markers of when something happened, the tense. They'll also carry a certain aspect of how something happened; subjunctive, imperative, indicative, passive, the verbal mood. Also common are markers of quality, such as progressive, perfective, or imperfective (accomplished through different ways, in English we load the sentence with helping verbs all over the place, in other languages like Latin the information is carried with the verb ending). Finally, they might be a marker for who is doing the action, the person (this widely varies; Romance languages are very specific about it, English barely acknowledges it, and most Scandinavian languages don't worry about it at all). We have certain expectations about the way a verb works. It is important, however, to know that these expectations cannot be relied upon when discussing Maori verbs. There are an unfathomable number of different ways human language can express the concepts listed above in ways different from the Indo-European model, context being one of them. The basic idea of what a verb is, though, does not change; a word expressing action.

Maori Verb Mood

This broadest category of verb quality, this requires some explanation. The most basic form of a Maori verb is its infinitive form. These do not follow a standard form; Maori verbs do not conjugate at all, so there is no need. The infinitive form alone is sufficient for the indicative mood. The imperative mood also uses the verb's base form, changes in tone and voice inflection based on context are enough to distinguish them. Keeping with the pattern so far, there is no conjugated subjunctive mood, it is indicated in a fashion similar to English by prefacing the verb with the particle kia ('let it be').

Passive Mood
This requires a little elaboration, since the passive is extremely important and more clearly marked in Maori than other moods. All passive verbs are constructed from the base infinitive form of the verb and an agglutinative termination. There are twelve possible terminations: -a, -ia, -hia, -kia, -mia, -ngia, -ria, -whia, -na, -ina, -rina, -whina. They all mean exactly the same thing. Why twelve, then? My source at this point, unfortunately, only states, "Maori pays much attention to euphony, and will therefore employ the most melodious-sounding word rather than follow a particular rule." While nice and romantic sounding, this is hardly informative from a linguistic standpoint, and incorrect to boot. Either the process is governed by rules (vowel harmony, elision, or restrictions of syllables are possibilities) or the forms are widely irregular according to patterns. In a round-a-bout way, those patterns or rules are the consequence of seeking the most 'melodious' word, so I can't fault Fr. Hawaria too greatly. Doing a little of my own analysis, there are some threads I can draw to help slightly in determining passive termination usage. Verbs ending in an 'e' or 'a' will employ the -a termination, for example haere (to go) to haerea (to be made to go). Consonants not featured in the list of passive terminations are often dropped in passive form, for example titiro (to look) to tirohia (to be seen). Maori passives are very clearly marked by one certain aspect, an ending with an i-a pattern (sounding very similar to e-a, which is probably the reason for the above pattern). Beyond that.. hooray for memorization.

Update from Gritchka! The endings apparently reflect the original final consonants of the verbs that were lost in proto-Polynesian.

One further thing on this topic, do you remember those rules about how it was improper to make wide use of passives in writing or speaking? That it made you sound weak, and it was better to stick with the active? Take those rules, throw them to the ground, stomp on them for a few times, and for good measure you might try a steamroller. Maori loves passive verbs and uses them more often than active. Especially in circumstances of obligation or necessity, the passive is most likely to be used.

Maori Verb Tense

Something a little simpler. Maori verbs do not conjugate for tense or person at all. Most information is derived from context. There are a series of 'time' particles that help specify tense when it is not clear, however. The progressive marker is e (verb) ana, and can be used for past, present, or future. For example, e hoki ana matou i a ia (going we with {proper} him) can mean, "we were going with him," "we are going with him," or "we will be going with him." The past definite marker, kua is also flexible, either having a perfective or imperfective aspect depending on context. The two other tense markers that do not vary are i (pronounced the same, but with a different vocal inflection from the preposition i (with) seen earlier) for past tense indefinite and ka for future tense.

Maori Verbal Nouns

Best translated by changing something like 'to lead' into 'the leading' and often matched with another verb, Maori verbal nouns are created in a similar fashion to the passive. The terminations for verbal nouns are -nga, -anga, -hanga, -manga, -ranga, -tanga, and -inga. Again, which one to use depends on the word it's modifying. As an example, pai te arahitanga o Hone ko te kuri tiki, "good the leading of John {object} the dog to fetch," or more fluidly, "It was good that John was lead to fetch the dog."


Harawira, K. T. Beginner's Maori. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997.

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