FAQ about Māori Grammars

Q1. What Māori language grammars are available and of what value are they?

A1. The last published grammar is Harlow (2015), originally published in 2001. In my view this is clearly the best grammar of Māori available. Aimed at those who have some knowledge of the language and are interested in how Māori works and second language speakers of Māori. It describes changes underway in modern Māori.

A2. Bauer's (1997) reference grammar is suited for advanced students with a good knowledge of language structure, especially syntax. Derived partially from Bauer (1993), it gives more attention to complex sentence structures than Harlow (2001). The book is based on Māori used by several older, very fluent native speakers of Māori.

A3. Biggs's Lets Learn Māori (first published 1969, revised edition 1973) provides an outline of the structure of Māori based on the phrase. For many years this was the only grammar available. It gives little attention to complex sentences and there are some aspects of the grammar of Māori not well covered. It was translated into Māori by Cleve Barlow (Biggs, 1990). Cleve's translation is now out of print and very hard to find.

Biggs's grammar has fallen out of favour and few institutions or individuals (other than Biggs's former students/acolytes) use it.

General Comments

Grammars tend to focus on written Māori as opposed to spoken Māori (an area requiring further research).

Each grammar uses slightly different terminology, in particular for classifying verbs (or lexical words other than nominals). A number of words in Māori can function as different parts of speech (i.e. can belong to more than one word class) which has lead in part to the variation in grammatical terminology used in the description of Māori.

Both Ray Harlow and Winifred Bauer have taught grammar in New Zealand universities (at Waikato University and Victoria University of Wellington respectively) over the years. Ray Harlow left Waikato University in 2010, but has taught some linguistics papers in 2012 and 2013.

There are different sets of Māori translations of English grammatical terminology. Taura Whiri (Māori language commission) terminology, which mostly derives from other sources, is probably the most commonly used.

Māori grammars often lack details on productivity. They may give obscure examples or use words which are unlikely to be encountered in current speech. This is largely a result of lack of data and language change.

John Moorfield's Te Kākano Study Guides provide very useful information on basic Māori grammar along with good examples. Details are here.

There are other pseudo-grammars or less detailed descriptions of Māori in existence. These are usually listed in the literature already quoted.

Harlow's 2007 Māori: a linguistic introduction is excellent. The print version is expensive. It is available in kindle format.


If you are serious about learning about the structure of Māori or improving your command of Māori get Harlow (2015). Some (especially advanced students) may find Bauer's works (1993, 1997) useful. Harlow (2007) and Moorfield's Te Kākano Study Guides are worthwhile. Many of these are now available as ebooks.


Bauer, W. A. (1993). Māori. London: Routledge.

Bauer, W. A. (1997). The Reed reference grammar of Māori. Auckland, New Zealand: Reed.

Biggs, B. (1969). Let's learn Māori: A guide to the study of the Māori language. Wellington, New Zealand: A.H. & A.W. Reed.

Biggs, B. (1973). Let's learn Māori: A guide to the study of the Māori language. Revised Edition. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.

Biggs, B. (1990). Me ako tatou i te reo Māori (trans. C. Barlow). Auckland, New Zealand: Billy King Holdings Ltd.

Harlow, R. (2001). A Māori reference grammar. Auckland, New Zealand: Longman.

Harlow, R. (2015). A Māori reference grammar. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia.

Harlow, R. (2007) Māori: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Last modified: 20 January 2017.