There’s an Australian comidienne who had a very cute slot about people mis-spelling the word you’re (you are) as your (belonging to you); she thought it was great.
You are wonderful.
You own wonderful.
The entire wonderfulness is yours.
Something similar happens in te reo with the words meaning for you, māu and mōu. We know that things fall into either the A-group or O-group.
Māu te pihikete.
The biscuit’s for you.
Mōu te pōtae.
The hat’s for you.
But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Nothing is ever exclusively in A or O, it’s always relative
He wai māu
Water for you
If something is māu, then it’s for you to make use of or manipulate. If something is mōu, then you are the reason, the purpose. It’s generally exclusive and inalienable. This is why water that you use for a while before it goes down the drain is māu, and drinking water that becomes an inalienable part of you and can’t be shared or reused is mōu.
He keke mōu.
A cake for you.
Edibles are usually A-group things but not this cake. You are the reason that this cake even exists. It’s your birthday and it was baked especially for you. Sure, you might let other people eat some crumbs but it doesn’t change the fact that the cake is yours. Let them eat bread.
Imagine you unexpectedly stayed at a friend’s place. They hand you a change of clothes, a blanket and show you where to sleep.
He kahu moe mōu. He paraikete mōu. He moenga mōu.
For me?! Wow, how generous! I don’t know why they’d be surprised when you start pulling a queen-size mattress down the stairs.
If you’re just using something for a while (e.g. loans, rentals) – even if it’s clothes, furniture or other O-group objects – they should say māu or suffer the consequences.
I can think of plenty of domestic disputes that would never have happened if only English made a distinction between A and O. Like when my friend wanted to sell the car that had been bought for her. Or when a neighbour took someone’s second-best Barbie she was told that she could have.
You have to be more careful with collectively owned taonga because people will take you at your word.
He kahu mō tō whānau, mā te pōtaetanga o tētahi tamaiti
A cloak for your family, to be used for a kid’s graduation.
He patu pounamu mō ngā mate, i takoto ai mā tēnei koroua
A patu pounamu for the deceased, laid down for this man.
If you had said mō te pōtaetanga, you could never use that cloak for anything else. If you said mō te koroua, that patu will be buried with him.
It’s a bit mean to pick on new learners but as far as I’m concerned any competent speaker is fair game. If they use mōu when offering you something, take them at their word and take their things. Maybe you’ll score pens or cups, but if you’re really lucky you might get their car or holiday home out of it. Just call it a lesson in the school of life.