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Māori phrasebook

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The Māori language (Te Reo Māori) is cherished by the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori, as a treasure (taonga) and many Pākehā (non-Māori, non-polynesians) are now trying to learn it. Although it is an official language of New Zealand, along with English and Sign Language, few New Zealanders (and only a minority of Māori) can conduct a conversation in the Maori language. All indigenous Māori speakers are bilingual and converse in English competently.

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 is as grating as fingernails scratching on a blackboard and will immediately identify you as a visitor to the country (or a culturally ignorant local). Many New Zealanders have trouble with some Māori place names. 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.

Pronunciation Guide[edit]

The New Zealand Māori language (Māori: Te Reo Māori) is relatively simple to pronounce.


Each of the vowels has a long and short form:

short a 
a as u in butt
long a 
ā as a in father
short e 
e as e in pen
long e 
ē as ai in pair
short i 
i as the second i in wiki (not like the first i in wiki)
long i 
ī as ee in feet
short o 
o as o in fort
long o 
ō as o in store
short u 
a shorter version of the long u sound, in most cases, but sometimes like the u in put.  In te reo Māori, there is no y sound like the sound of the y in youth, so if you encounter a word that beginnings in u, then it will start with the oo sound, and not the yoo sound.
long u 
ū as oo in boot

Tohutō Macron usage[edit]

In written Māori, the long vowels are often denoted by macrons (bars over the letters) or whatever similar characters were available to the typesetter. Sometimes you will see words written with a vowel letter repeated. This may indicate that the vowel is pronounced "long" but a macron was not available to be used, but in modern usage it is essential to use this diacritical mark as words without the tohutō do not mean the same as words with it.

Thus Māori, Maaori and Maori would all represent the same word depending on iwi and dialect. For example in the Waikato, Tainui use the double vowel for the long vowel sound.

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. Road direction signs for Taupo (both the town and the lake) are now written as Taupō; whereas, prior to 2008, the macron, which should have been used, was missing.


There are ten consonants in te reo Māori: h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, wh and ng. The first eight are pronounced as in English, although the r is said with a flap, like the beginning of a roll. It's not a long roll like the 'r's in Spanish. If you imagine a roll is like a machine gun burst, then the flap is like a single shot from the same firearm. It starts like a roll does, but quickly moves on to the rest of the word. This sound is often found as the pronunciation for the t in words such as 'water' and 'butter' in some dialects of English (notably Australian, US and some New Zealand accents).

Ng is pronounced as the ng in 'sing' and 'singer'; it does not contain a hard g sound as in 'finger'.

In most parts of the country, wh is pronounced like an English f (as in feel or font or fin); however, there are dialectical differences. For some words, the Whanganui Iwi (tribe) pronounce wh (as you would for whale or where, with minimal breath expelled, so almost like the same sound as a w). The f sound is the usual pronunciation in most regions of the country, so stick with that unless you're told otherwise.


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:

is said A ka ta ra wa
is said Maa o ri (Remember to have your tongue forward when you say the r, so that you make the flap sound).
is said Pa ra pa ra u mu
is said Fa nga rei (Fa nga ray)


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:

  • Rotoruarotolake and ruatwo = two lakes (or perhaps 2nd lake, as Ihenga discovered Rotoiti first.
  • Kaimoanakaifood and moanasea = seafood.

Phrase list[edit]

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.

Hello (informal or answering the telephone) 
Kia ora
Hello (to one person) 
Tēnā koe
Hello (to two people) 
Tēnā kōrua
Hello (to a group of three or more) 
Tēnā koutou
Haere mai (Literally means Come towards the speaker)
How are you? 
Kei te pēhea koe?
I'm good 
Kei te pai ahau
I'm great 
Ka nui te ora (Literally Life's great)
What is your name? 
Ko wai tō ingoa? (i ngo a)
My name is ______ 
Ko ______ tōku ingoa
What is his/her name? 
Ko wai tana ingoa?
His/her name is ______ 
Ko ______ tana ingoa
Good-bye (to the person staying) 
E noho rā
Good-bye (to the person going)  
Haere rā (Ha e re raa)


koa (Homai koa he kaputī = Give me a cup of tea, please )
Tenā (Tēnā homai he kaputī = Please give me a cup of tea)
Thank you 
kia ora (is pronounced kee-a o-ra) (Literally, this phrase means Be well. It is more often used as a greeting than as a way of saying Thank you. Remember to try to do the flap sound.

Hello means tēnā koe Well being means Kia ora As there is no word for thank you, kia ora is used No is Kāhore for the Northland tribe Ngā Puhi


Tahi (tah-hee)
Rua (roo-ah)
Toru (toh-roo)
Whā (faah)
Rima (ree-ma)
Ono (oh-noh)
Whitu (fee-too)
Waru (wah-roo)
Iwa (ee-wah)
Tekau (teh-co)

To say numbers higher than then you must say Tekau mā *number*

Tekau mā tahi
Tekau mā rua
Tekau mā toru
Tekau mā whā
Tekau mā rima
Tekau mā ono
Tekau mā whitu
Tekau mā waru
Tekau ma iwa

To say 20,30,40,50 - 90 you must say e *number* tekau E.G. 20 is e rua tekau and 30 is e toru tekau

If you want to say any numbers in between you must say e *number* tekau mā *number*

E rua tekau mā tahi
E toru tekau mā rua
E whā tekau mā toru

And so on....

Glossary of Māori geographical terms translated into English[edit]

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

river, channel
stream (e.g. Mangawhio: in South Taranaki = blue duck stream)
sea, lake (e.g. Waikaremoana: in the western Hawke's Bay region = sea of rippling water)
the (plural form)
beach, sand, soil
hill (e.g. Te Puke: in the Bay of Plenty region = the hill)
sky, heavens
lake (e.g. Rotoiti: in the Bay of Plenty region = small lake)
tide, sea
the (singular form)
water (e.g. Wairoa: in Taranaki = long water)
bay, harbour (e.g. Whanganui = big harbour)

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, in recent years, 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 often 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 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 more[edit]

Māori Language (te reo 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 Maori Language Commission also has a list of course providers.

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