Exercise Two

Asking and saying what something is

He aha
Asking and saying what something is

‘He aha…?’ is used to ask someone what is/are/was/were. Look at the following questions and answers to familiarise yourself with the structure. Note that when the question is answered, aha is replaced with the answer.

He aha tērā?
What is that?

He pīrairaka tērā.
That is a fantail.


He pīrairaka.
A fantail.

He aha kei runga i te tuanui?
What is that on the roof?

He paoro kei runga i te tuanui.
A ball is on the roof.


He paoro.
A ball.

He aha tana mahi?
What’s his/her job?

He hoia ia.
She’s a soldier/He’s a soldier.

The above examples show how he can be used to say what an item is. He is also useful for describing a quality of an object. Below are some examples that show this usage.

He ngāwari tēnei mahi.
This work is easy.

He mārō ngā pihikete rā.
Those biscuits are hard.

He tino reka tōna reo.
Her voice is very sweet.

He paru ōku kamupūtu.
My gumboots are dirty.

He aha is very useful to those who are learning te reo as it can be used to find out meanings for new words or to find Māori words for their English equivalent.

Hei tauira:

He aha te tikanga o tēnā kupu?
What is the meaning of that word?

He aha tēnei kupu?
What is this word?

He aha te kupu Māori mō gumboot?
What is the Māori word for gumboot?

He aha te kupu Pākehā mō tēnei?
What is the English word for this?

When using he, the user should note that the term is indefinite, that is, it is not used to refer to something specific, or how many there are. Nor does it indicate time.

He tangata e waiata ana i te oriori
A person is singing a lullaby to the tired

ki ngā tamariki ngenge.

The example above does not refer to a definite person but states that a person is singing. If you were to talk of someone in particular you would be more likely to use ko as in the following example.

Ko Hera e waiata ana i te oriori ki
Sarah is singing a lullaby to the tired

ngā tamariki ngenge.

As he does not inform the listener of the amount of objects the speaker is talking about, it may be indicated by the context of or something in the sentence.

He does not define the tense of the sentence, that is, whether it refers to the past, present or future.

Kei wareware i a koe ngā piko, ngā tohu pātai, ngā ira kati me ngā tohutō i ngā wāhi e tika ana.

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