Fun with numbers – Toko, Kia, E, Ka

I said I’d write another post, and well here we are. I was going to post on a completely different topic but the post became too big and was straying too far away from language so I’m storing it away in drafts for now and thought I’d go for an easier, and hopefully shorter, topic (it’s still a bit of a read).

Counting can be complicated in te reo. I see and hear mistakes all the time. Some of those mistakes are made by native and non-native speakers alike.

Here’s a quick handy reference guide if you ever get stuck.

Toko – this is used for numbers between 2 – 9, and is used for counting people. Anything bigger than 9, we don’t use toko. Toko is written like a prefix to the number.  A lot of native speakers and non-native speakers don’t use toko. They prefer to use e and ka, which I cover next :).

Ka – this is used for counting items and objects. This one can be used for numbers 1 – 9 and is commonly used for just pure counting e.g. ka tahi ka rua ka toru (one, two, three).

E – this is also used for counting items and objects and is used for numbers 2 – 9. NB I have seen it written it shouldn’t be used with one, but then I’ve seen native speakers use e before one. Make of that what you will. I urge you however to avoid using e before tahi.

Kia – this is used for requesting quantity. So if someone asks you ‘kia hia ngā huka?’ (how much sugar) you could say ‘kia toru’ (three, please). If you wanted to say ‘no sugar’ it’s simple ‘kaua he huka’.  Non-native speakers tend not to use kia.

The number zero takes no particle and there are several ways of expressing and saying zero with kore being the most common.

Of special note, the numbers kotahi and tekau never take any of the above, except for kia. There’s a very technical linguistic reason for this. The ko part of kotahi is already got a prefix – ko (it’s from PNP *soko), and tekau is actually a noun phrase (it means ‘the tally’, kau meaning ‘tally’). I will tech on the significance of *soko at the end of this post. Of course, you will hear people saying e tekau, and it is becoming increasingly common. I encourage you to not make the same mistake but if you do, feel good in knowing you’re one of the many who are saying ‘e tekau’.

AND to make things more interesting, numbers in te reo are also verbs. So it is completely grammatically correct to say ‘Ka rua aku pō ki te marae’ to mean ‘I spent two nights at the marae’. It’s much shorter than saying ‘Ka noho au ki te marae mō te rua pō’ if you’re one for being economical with words.

Now going back to *soko, for all you Polynesian language admirers, kotahi is believed to be the inherited form of *sokotasi. If you think that reconstructed word sounds familiar and you speak another Eastern Polynesian language then it’s probably because the other Eastern Polynesian language you speak (notably Cook Islands Māori, Mōriori, and Rapa Nui) all have inherited forms of *sokotasi – ‘okota’i, hokotehi and hokotahi which all mean one (or in the case of Rapa Nui, ‘alone’).

So that’s it for now. Any questions, hit me up.


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