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The word ‘taea’

Taea is a tricky verb with unique rules, but it is easily mastered.

Taea usually means ‘to be able to’, e.g.

Ka taea e au ngā tītī te tunu.
I am able to cook the muttonbird.

Ka taea au te whakaoho e koe ā te whitu karaka?
Are you able to wake me at 7 o’clock?

It is useful to compare this with the construction of passive sentences, e.g.

Tense + verb(passivised) + patient + e + agent.
I + hanga(ia) + te marae + e + ngā tohunga.
(The marae was built by the tohunga.)

Using taea we could have:

Tense + taea + e + agent + verbal comment + patient.

I + taea + e + ngā tohunga + te hanga + te marae.
(The tohunga were able to build the marae.)

Ka + taea + e + au + te tunu + ngā tītī.

Notice in particular that:

  • taea is the main verb.
  • The agent is preceded by ‘e’ (just like in passive sentences).
  • The verbal comment here is the action of which you are able – a verb preceded by ‘te’.
  • The patient is not indicated by ‘i’.

Interestingly, the agent, verbal comment and patient of the sentence can be arranged in just about any order, e.g.

  • Ka taea e au te tunu ngā tītī.
  • Ka taea e au ngā tītī te tunu.
  • Ka taea te tunu e au ngā tītī.
  • Ka taea te tunu ngā tītī e au.
  • Ka taea ngā tītī e au te tunu.
  • Ka taea ngā tītī te tunu e au.

However there are some points to consider:

  • Some orders may not be particularly idiomatic, depending on the content.
  • If there is a pronoun, it is usually placed earlier in the sentence.
  • If there is emphasis on a particular aspect of the sentence, this will tend to come at the end.

Ka taea e au te tunu ngā tītī!
I am able to cook the muttonbird!

Ka taea e au ngā tītī te tunu!
I am able to cook the muttonbird!

Ka taea au te whakaoho e koe ā te whitu karaka?
Are you able to wake me at 7 o’clock?

For a fuller discussion, refer to Ray Harlow, A Māori Reference Grammar, 2001, Tāmaki-makau-rau: Pearson Education New Zealand Limited, pp. 191-192.

Negating ‘taea’

If taea is the main verb in the sentence, you can begin the sentence with ‘Kāore e taea...’ (‘not able’) or ‘Kāore anō kia taea...’ (‘not yet able’) and continue as you would otherwise for a sentence with taea e.g.

Kāore e taea e au te tunu ngā tītī.
I am not able to cook the muttonbird.

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