100 Māori words every New Zealander should know

100 Māori words every New Zealander should know

The marae

  • Hui a meeting of any kind, conference, gathering
  • Marae the area for formal discourse in front of a meeting house or applied to a whole marae complex, including meeting house, dining hall, forecourt, etc.
  • Haere mai! Welcome! Enter!
  • Nau mai! Welcome!
  • Tangihanga funeral ceremonies, when body is mourned on a marae
  • Tangi short (verbal version) for the above (gerund) or to cry, to mourn
  • Karanga the ceremony of calling to the guests to welcome them to enter the marae
  • Manuhiri guests, visitors
  • Tangata whenua original people belonging to a place, local people, hosts
  • Whaikōrero the art and practise of speech making
  • Kaikōrero or kaiwhai kōrero speaker (there are many other terms)
  • Haka chant with dance for the purpose of challenge; (see other references to haka on this site)
  • Waiata song or chant which follows speech
  • Koha gift, present (usually money, can be food or precious items, given by guest to hosts)
  • Whare nui meeting house; in writing this is sometimes run together as one word – wharenui
  • Whare whakairo carved meeting house
  • Whare kai dining hall
  • Whare paku lavatory, toilet
  • Whare horoi ablution block, bathroom


  • Aroha compassion, tenderness, sustaining love
  • Ihi power, authority, essential force
  • Mana authority, power; secondary meaning: reputation, influence
  • Manaakitanga respect for hosts or kindness to guests, to entertain, to look after
  • Mauri hidden essential life force or a symbol of this
  • Noa safe from tapu (see below), non-sacred, not tabooed
  • Raupatu confiscate, take by force
  • Rohe boundary, a territory (either geographical or spiritual) of an iwi or hapū
  • Taihoa to delay, to wait, to hold off to allow maturation of plans, etc.
  • Tapu sacred, not to be touched, to be avoided because sacred, taboo
  • Tiaki to care for, look after, guard (kaitiaki – guardian, trustee)
  • Taonga treasured possessions or cultural items, anything precious
  • Tino rangatiratanga the highest possible independent chiefly authority, paramount authority, sometimes used for sovereignty
  • Tūrangawaewae a place to stand, a place to belong to, a seat or location of identity
  • Wehi to be held in awe
  • Whakapapa genealogy, to recite genealogy, to establish kin connections
  • Whenua land, homeland, country; also afterbirth, placenta

People and their groups

  • Ariki person of high inherited rank from senior lines of descent, male or female
  • Hapū clan, tribe, independent section of a people; modern usage – sub-tribe; pregnant
  • Iwi people, nation; modern usage – tribe; bones
  • Kaumātua elder or elders, senior people in a kin group
  • Ngāi Tātou a way of referring to everyone present – we all
  • Pākehā this word is not an insult; its derivation is obscure; it is the Māori word for people living in New Zealand of British/European origin; originally it would not have included, for example, Dalmatians, Italians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese, etc.
  • Rangatira person of chiefly rank, boss, owner
  • Tama son, young man, youth
  • Tamāhine daughter
  • Tamaiti one child
  • Tamariki children
  • Tāne man, husband, men, husbands
  • Teina/taina junior relative, younger brother of a brother, younger sister of a sister
  • Tipuna/tupuna ancestor
  • Tuahine sister of a man
  • Tuakana senior relative, older brother of a brother, older sister of a sister
  • Tungāne brother of a sister
  • Wahine woman, wife (wāhine women, wives)
  • Waka canoe, canoe group (all the iwi and hapū descended from the crew of a founding waka)
  • Whāngai fostered or adopted child, young person
  • Whānau extended or non-nuclear family; to be born
  • Whanaunga kin, relatives

Components of place names

Ordinary geographical features such as hills, rivers, cliffs, streams, mountains, the coast and adjectives describing them, such as small, big, little and long, are to be found in many place names. Here is a list so you can recognise them:

  • Au current
  • Awa river
  • Iti small, little
  • Kai one of the meanings of kai is food; in a place name it signifies a place where a particular food source was plentiful, e.g., Kaikōura, the place where crayfish (kōura) abounded and were eaten
  • Mānia plain
  • Manga stream
  • Maunga mountain
  • Moana sea, or large inland ‘sea’, e.g., Taupō
  • Motu island
  • Nui large, big
  • Ō or o means ‘of’ (so does a, ā); many names begin with Ō, meaning the place of so-and-so, e.g., Ōkahukura, Ōkiwi, Ōhau, etc.
  • One sand, earth
  • Pae ridge, range
  • Papa flat
  • Poto short
  • Puke hill
  • Roa long
  • Roto lake; inside
  • Tai coast, tide
  • Wai water
  • Whanga harbour, bay


Body parts

  • Arero tongue
  • Ihu nose
  • Kakī neck
  • Kauae, kauwae chin
  • Kōpū womb
  • Māhunga also ‘Makawe’, hair (when used for hair must always be used in plural, indicated by ngā [the, plural]), head.
  • Manawa heart
  • Niho teeth
  • Poho chest (also called uma)
  • Puku belly, stomach
  • Raho testicles
  • Ringa hand, arm
  • Toto blood
  • Tou anus
  • Turi knee (also known as pona)
  • Tūtae excrement, ordure
  • ū breast (breast-milk is wai-ū)
  • Upoko head
  • Ure penis
  • Waewae foot, feet, leg, legs

See also: 365 useful Māori words and phrases

A note on pronunciation

The following English equivalents are a rough guide to pronouncing vowels in Māori:

  • a as in far
  • e as in desk and the first ‘e’ in where; it should be short and sharp
  • i as in fee, me, see
  • o as in awe (not ‘oh!’)
  • u as in sue, boot

There are fewer consonants, and only a few are different from English:

  • r should not be rolled. It is pronounced quite close to the sound of ‘l’ in English. The tongue is near the front of the mouth.
  • t is pronounced more like ‘d’ than ‘t’, with the tip of the tongue slightly further back from the teeth
  • wh counts as a consonant; the standard modern pronunciation is close to the ‘f’ sound; in some districts it is more like an ‘h’; in others more like a ‘w’ without the ‘h’; in others again more like the old aspirated English pronunciation of ‘wh’ (huence for whence)
  • ng counts as one consonant and is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in the word ‘singer’. It isnot pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘finger’, i.e., Whāngārei is pronounced Far-n(g)ah-ray (not Fong-gah-ray); Tauranga is pronounced Tow- (to rhyme with sew) rah-n(g)ah (not Tow-rang-gah).

The macron – a little line above some vowels – indicates vowel length. Some words that look the same have different meanings according to their vowel length. For example, anā means ‘here is’ or ‘behold’: Anā te tangata! (Here is the man!) But ana, with no macron, means a cave. Some writers of modern Māori double the vowel instead of using macrons when indicating a long vowel, so the first example would be Anaa te tangata!

Using te reo in email (and snail mail)

We have put together this guide to help people learn appropriate email greetings and sign-offs in te reo Māori.

We have listed some of the most commonly used phrases below. We encourage you to add any others you have received or any other questions you have as community contributions below this post, or email us at info@nzhistory.net.nz.

Generic greetings suitable for most occasions

  • Formal for one person (eg where in English you might have used ‘Dear’): Tēnā koe
  • Informal: Kia ora

When addressing two people

  • Formal: Tēnā kōrua
  • Informal: Kia ora kōrua

When addressing more than two people

  • Formal: Tēnā koutou
  • Informal: Kia ora koutou

Generic sign offs suitable for most occasions


  • Nāku (noa), nā  [your name] = yours sincerely [your name]  from one person
  • Nā māua (noa), nā  [your names] = yours sincerely [your names] – from two people
  • Nā mātou (noa), nā  [your names or group name] = yours sincerely [your names or group name] – from more than two people

Adding ‘noa’ in the above examples adds a sense of humility – eg ‘Nāku, nā’ is ‘From [your name]’  whereas ‘Nāku noa, nā is more like ‘It’s just [your name]’


  •  Hei konā mai (or just Hei konā)

Other greetings and signoffs

Please provide more examples from emails you have received as community contributions at the bottom of this page or email us at info@nzhistory.net.nz

  • If morning, an informal greeting could be: Mōrena (good morning – an alternative is ‘Ata mārie’ )
  • Kia ora e hoa (informal greeting to a friend)
  • If someone greets you with: Tēnā koutou e hoa mā

    An appropriate response would be: Tēnā koe, e hoa (or, less formally, Kia ora e hoa).

  • The sign off: Noho ora mai rā, nā … is: Look after yourself, from …

For Christmas:

  • Meri Kirihimete – Merry Christmas
  • Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete me te Tau Hou – Seasons greetings for Christmas and the New Year.
  • Meri Kirihimete ki a koe/kōrua/koutou – Merry Christmas to you (1 person) / you (2 people) / you (3 or more people).
  • Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete ki a koe/kōrua/koutou – Greetings of the Christmas season to you  (1 person) / you (2 people) / you (3 or more people).



September 15, 2013/ by / in

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