Past Perfect New Zealand Māori

I was asked to write about this some time ago so I thought I better put finger to keyboard and write it. This post is aimed at those who have a fairly strong working knowledge of Māori language and grammar. For those who are still learning, this is a good post to book mark and to refer to later once you are more confident and comfortable with the language and the language of Māori grammar.

Past perfect in New Zealand Māori is expressed with Tense Aspect Marker (TAM) ‘kua’. A popular dialectal variant is kō. I have heard this variant used by East Coast speakers and also Far North speakers. It’s possibly used by many more speakers outside of those areas. Kua is the inherited form from Proto-Polynesian *kua and in some of the other Polynesian languages it is used for simple past.

Below is an example in NZ Māori of how to use kua:

Kua hoki atu rātou ki te marae
They have gone back to the marae

Fairly straight forward for anyone who knows the default sentence order in Māori (VSO – Verb Subject Object). To negate, however, kua is replaced by kia. For example:

Kāore rātou kia hoki atu ki te marae
They haven’t gone back to the marae

A common mistake is for people to use kua in the negative instead of kia.

Why? Because kua should never be used in the middle of a phrase (euphony), and grammatically it’s wrong. It can’t even co-occur with ai to form a complex sentence, and should never be used with ana. This avoidance of kua in these situations is not so strong in modern Māori, but it definitely is in classical. For example, if you front a subject with ko then kua should change to i e.g.:

Kua haere mai ia inanahi would become

Ko ia i haere mai inanahi

He/she came yesterday

If you needed to form a complex sentence involving kua, then i is also substituted for kua e.g.:

Nā taku kuia te karanga ki te ope i tae mai ai i te ata nei

My kuia did the karanga for the group who had come this morning

In modern Māori you could render it as:

Nā taku kuia te karanga ki te ope kua tae mai i te ata nei

Notice that you can’t use ai with kua.

This also extends to questions;

Classical – he aha te take i mate ai ia?

Modern – he aha te take kua mate ia?

Why did he/she die?

Kua has grammatical functions other than just perfect past. It can also be used for future tense e.g.

Āpōpō kua tae mai ngā pōti ki konei

Tomorrow the boats will have arrived

When it’s used with a stative verb it can be translated and understood as being present tense e.g.

Kua mate ia

He/she is dead

It can also be used with numbers because numbers in Māori are also stative verbs. You won’t find this use of kua in classical Māori texts though – I understand this to be a modern innovation. Below is an example of how you could use kua with a number e.g.

Kua toru ana nohonga ki Taupō

He/she has stayed in Taupō three times




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