Possessives in Te Reo Māori

These are some notes on possessives I wrote a while back when I was attending a night class for te reo Māori. I'm publishing them here in case they're useful to someone else learning the language.

For me, describing things in terms of syntax and patterns is an easier way of learning and remembering - this is how this post on possessives is structured. Not everyone finds this to be a good way to learn - I've had comments that it's too technical - but for those that learn like me, hopefully it's helpful.

Possessives are for talking about who owns or controls something. Instead of "The Chair" or "The Chairs" possessives are for "My Chair" or "My Chairs", etc. In Māori, non-possessive usage is "Te tūru" and "Ngā tūru" for non-possessive singular and plural respectively. Using possessives it becomes "Tōku tūru" or "ōku tūru" for "My Chair" and "My Chairs". ie. The possessive word tōku or ōku replaces the use of "te/ngā".

The possessive words follow a pattern. They start with a prefix. The prefixes are marked in bold and the suffix in italics in the examples in the following table:

Example Prefix Suffix Plurality Category
ku ku singular o
na na singular a
ōna ō na plural o
āu ā u plural a

When I see one of "tō, tā, ō, ā" I know that something is being possessed/owned. The prefix itself has a pattern. It starts with a 't' for singular. Without the 't' it's plural. This plurality refers to the things being possessed (the chair, table, etc), not the number of possessors. This is followed by the a/o category  - see this kupu of the day page for more on categories.

Following this prefix is a suffix that identifies the possessor, and the plurality of the possessor. In the case of a singular possessor (ie. one person), there are special suffixes to learn.

They are (where '..' is replaced by the prefix above):

..ku = mine
..na = his/hers
..u  = yours

So:

Māori English Plurality Category Possessor
tōku tūru my chair t = one chair ō = o category ku = mine
ōku tūru my chairs no t = plural chairs ō = o category ku = mine
tōna tūru his/her chair t = one chair ō = o category na = his/hers
ōna tūru his/her chairs no t = plural chairs ō = o category na = his/hers
tōu tūru your chair t = one chair ō = o category u = you
ōu tūru your chairs no t = plural chairs ō = o category u = you

For all other possessor possibilities (more than one possessor), then instead of a ku, na, u suffix we use personal pronouns (mātou, tātou, etc):

Māori English Plurality Category Possessor
tō tātou tūru all of ours chair t = one chair ō = o category tātou = all of us
ō tātou tūru all of ours chairs no t = more than one chair ō = o category tātou = all of us
tō tāua tūru you and I's chair t = one chair ō = o category tāua = you and I
ō tātou tūru you and I's chairs no t = more than one chair ... ...
tō rātou tūru Their chair ... ... ...
ō rātou tūru Their chairs ... ... ...
tō mātou tūru Our chair, but not who I'm talking to ... ... ...
tō Hēmi tūru Hēmi's chair ... ... ...

How does this work in a sentence? Replace te or ngā in the subject's noun phrase with the possessive:

Māori English
kei te tangi te pēpi the baby is crying
kei te tangi tāku pēpi my baby is crying
kei te tangi āku pēpi my babies are crying
kei te tangi tāu pēpi your baby is crying
kei te tangi āu pēpi your babies are crying
kei te tangi tā rātau pēpi their (two of them) baby is crying
kei te tangi tā kōrua pēpi you two's baby is crying
kei te tangi ā kōrua pēpi you two's babies are crying
kei te tangi tā Mere pēpi Mere's baby is crying

In those examples I'm using the 'a' category, as pēpi goes under children from that a/o category link.

Another way of expressing possession, when the possessor is identified by a personal noun, is to use 'a' or 'o' (without the macron) in between the thing possessed and the possessor. The 'a' or 'o' expresses the a/o category of the possession and can be thought of as 'of' in English:

Māori 1 Māori 2 English
kei te tangi tā Mere pēpi kei te tangi te pēpi o Mere Mere's baby is crying
ko ngā pene a Hēmi ēnei ko ā Hēmi pene ēnei These are Hemi's pens

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