Types of Verbs in Te Reo Māori

In the te reo Māori class I attend we’ve been covering different types of verbs and how they affect sentence construction. This post is a tidied up version of my notes.

The different verb types we’ve gone through are:

Tūmahi whiti  - transitive verbs
Tūmahi poro   - intransitive verbs
Tūmahi wheako - experience verbs
Tūmahi oti    - stative verbs

Before going through verbs, a brief diversion into “reremahi” - action sentences.


Reremahi, or action sentences, are sentences where the main focus is the action being performed. They involve a subject performing an action and optionally an object that the action is performed upon.

These types of sentence structures follow the form:

<Tense marker> + <verb> + <subject>
<Tense marker> + <verb> + <subject> + <particle i/ki> + <object>

The tense marker indicates the time that the action is performed - past, present or future. Common tense markers are:

Tense Marker Meaning Example Translation
Kei te present tense, continuous action Kei te oma au I am running
E ... ana present tense, continuous action E oma ana au I am running
Ka future tense Ka oma au I will run
I past tense I oma au I ran
I te past tense, continuous action I te oma au I was running
Kua past perfect tense* Kua oma au I have run

*An action in the past in relation to something even further back in the past, sometimes described as “recent past tense”. It is translated as “have” in English.

A simple sentence example would be:

English Māori
I am eating Kei te kai au
Tense marker Kei te (present tense, continuous)
Verb kai (eat)
Subject au (me/I)

An example that uses an object:

English Māori
He/She has eaten the apple Kua kai ia i te āporo
Tense marker kua (past perfect tense)
Verb kai (eat)
Subject ia (he/she)
Particle i (object marker)
Object te āporo (the apple)


“Tūmahi” is the te reo Māori word for ‘verb’. Verbs are action or doing words. If someone or something is doing something or performing an action, then that action is the verb. “Mahi” in te reo Māori can mean “to do” which helps to remember “tūmahi” as a doing word.

There are different types of verbs and I’ll describe these in the following sections. Why do we need to be able to identify the types of verbs? One common difficulty in constructing te reo Māori sentences is knowing whether to use “i” or “ki” to mark the object of the sentence. Different verb types use either “i” or “ki”. By being able to identify the type of verb it tells us which object marker to use.

Tūmahi Whiti

Tūmahi whiti are transitive verbs. A transitive verb expresses an action that affects an object. If it doesn’t affect an object it’s not a transitive verb.

For example, the verb “to hit” - saying “I hit” doesn’t make much sense - the sentence needs an object to complete the thought. “I hit the ball” - here “hit” is a transitive verb with “the ball” being the object.

Another example is the verb “to carry”. “The boy carried” isn’t a complete sentence, it needs an object. “carry” is therefore a transitive verb. “The boy carried the box”.

Why do we need to know if a verb is transitive or not? In English there is no object marker in a sentence - the object follows the verb. But in te reo Māori, objects are marked with a particle - either “i” or “ki”. Transitive verbs in te reo Māori use the particle “i” to mark the object. The previous example in te reo Māori would be:

English Māori
I hit the ball I patu au i te pōro
Tense marker I (past tense)
Verb patu (strike, hit)
Subject au (me/I)
Object marker particle i (because patu is a transitive verb)
Object te pōro (the ball)
English Māori
The boy carried the box I kawe te tama i te pouaka
Tense marker I (past tense)
Verb kawe (carry)
Subject te tama (the boy)
Object marker particle i (because kawe is a transitive verb)
Object te pouaka (the box)

Tūmahi poro

Tūmahi poro are intransitive verbs. These are verbs that don’t affect an object. They are just actions that subjects do that affect themselves. For example, the verb “to arrive”. A person can arrive, but they can’t arrive something. These sentences in te reo Māori don’t have an object at all:

English Māori
They are arriving Kei te tae rātou
Tense marker Kei te (present tense)
Verb tae (arrive)
Subject rātou (them, three or more)
English Māori
The cat has sat Kua noho te ngeru
Tense marker kua (past perfect tense)
Verb noho (sit)
Subject te ngeru (the cat)

Note that extra information can be added to a sentence - “the cat has sat on the mat” for example. But because “sat” is intransitive it has no object - the “on the mat” part of the sentence is not the object of the sentence, it’s extra information providing the location where the action occurred.

Tūmahi Wheako

Tūmahi wheako are experience verbs. These are verbs whereby the subject is an experiencer of something. They name a mental state or perception that the subject perceives. In these words the object of the sentence is the source of the experience.

Because they have an object they are similar to tūmahi whiti, transitive verbs, so why do we distinguish between them in te reo Māori? We do this because sentences with experience verbs mark the object (or the source of the experience) using the particle “ki” rather than the particle “i” which transitive verbs use.
Knowing which verbs are experience verbs requires memorising them. These are some of the experience verbs we’ve covered in class:

Experience Verb Meaning
pīrangi hope/desire
whakaaro thought/idea
hiahia want/need
moemoeā dream
aroha love
mōhio know
mahara think about/consider
āwangawanga anxious

Some example sentences:

English Māori
I love you Kei te aroha au ki a koe
Tense marker kei te (present tense)
Verb aroha (love)
Subject au (me/I)
Object marker particle ki (because aroha is an experience verb)
Object a koe (you - the ‘a’ is a particle used in places to identify a pronoun/name)
English Māori
I dreamt about my car I moemoeā au ki tōku motoka
Tense marker I (past tense)
Verb moemoeā (dream)
Subject au (me/I)
Object marker particle ki (because moemoeā is an experience verb)
Object tōku motoka (my car)

There are some exceptions to remember. The following are classified as experience verbs but they use “i” as the object marker:

  • kite
  • rongo
English Māori
We will see the moon Ka kite tātou i te marama
Tense marker Ka (future tense)
Verb kite (see)
Subject tātou (we, three or more)
Object marker particle i (because kite is an exception to the experience verb rule)
Object te marama (the moon)

I don’t know why these are exceptions. Using the correct object marker for experience verbs seems to be a matter of remembering which verbs are experience verbs and remembering which are the exceptions within that list.

Tūmahi oti

Tūmahi oti are stative verbs. They’re also known as Tūāhua oti. A stative verb refers to a state or change of state rather than an action and the way the sentence is structured is quite different.

There’s no rule to identify whether a verb is a stative verb - they have to be remembered, much like tūmahi wheako. Some examples we learnt in class:

Stative Meaning
pau consumed
mau firm/secure
riro taken
pakaru broken
oti completed
motu be cut / severed
mahue deserted
mākona satisfied
taka fall
mate dead
ea fulfilled
ora life
tutuki completed
ngaro lost

The sentence structure for sentences with tūmahi oti is different to that of sentences with the other types of verb. In these sentences the object of the sentence does not have an object marker particle, instead the subject of the sentence has one. They are structured like this:

<Tense marker> + <stative verb> + <object>
<Tense marker> + <stative verb> + <object> + <particle i> + <subject>

A example of the first form:

English Māori
The window was broken I pakaru te matapihi
Tense marker I (past tense)
Verb pakaru (broken)
Object te matapihi (the window)

Notice the difference between the other verbs. The window is not breaking something. The window is in the state of broken. The agent is marked with “i” if there is one:

English Māori
The window was broken by the girl I pakaru te matapihi i te kōtiro
Tense marker I (past tense)
Verb pakaru (broken)
Object te matapihi (the window)
Subject marker particle i (because pakaru is a stative verb)
Subject te kōtiro (the girl)

In sentences with stative verbs the “i” can be read as “by the” - the state of the object of the sentence has been reached by the actions of the subject.

English Māori
He has been left behind by the bus Kua mahue ia i te pahi
Tense marker kua (past perfect tense)
Verb mahue (abandoned, left behind)
Object ia (he)
Subject marker particle i (because mahue is a stative verb)
Subject te pahi (the bus)

The above example would probably read in English as “he missed the bus”, but because the verb used for “missed” is the stative verb “mahue”, a literal reading is “he has been left behind by the bus”. “He” is the object that is in the state of having been left behind by the actions of the subject, the bus.

Reading sentences with stative verbs is similar to reading passive sentences - which I'll cover in a later post. It’s easy to get the subject and object mixed up, but memorising the common stative verbs and learning to recognise when they appear in a sentence will help.