To be rānei? That is the question

Years ago I learnt how to use rānei with this little sentence:

He kapu tī māu? He kapu kawhe rānei?
Would you like a cup of tea? Or a cup of coffee?

Beginners often try and use rānei by putting in between each item in a list (although it even sounds childish in English) and pausing in the wrong place of the phrase.

He panana, rānei he āporo, rānei he arani.
A banana, or an apple, or an orange.

There’s not many things that get under my skin (I wouldn’t be a very good teacher if I didn’t have a high tolerance for pain) but this is definitely one of them. Te reo teachers will often give a sentence like the one below as an example and many will declare that you only ever use rānei once in a phrase.

He panana, he āporo, he arani rānei.
A banana, an apple or an orange.

Such a simple and well defined grammatical rule… except that it’s not a rule at all! There are many phrases that use rānei repeatedly such as this one in Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna when the atua are discussing what should be done with their parents, Ranginui and Papatūānuku.

…kia patua rānei, kia wehea rānei.
…whether they should be slain, or be separated.

One reason for the repeated use of rānei is to balance the two options; each choice has equal merit and each needs to be weighed carefully. There is no bias or preference given to one plan over the other. Another reason is simply aesthetics – phrases in te reo are often repeated or symmetrical to enhance the rhythmic, sing-song pattern of spoken language and in this instance it also emphasises how the atua were oscillating between the two plans.

…kia patua rānei, kia wehea rānei.
…should they be slain or separated? Separated or slain?

Another use of rānei is as a negative or opposite option.

Ka haere koe? Kāore rānei?
Are you going? Or not?

A more eloquent way to say the same thing would be

Ka haere rānei koe?
Are you or aren’t you going?

It’s unnecessary to add the word ‘kāore’ because the word itself ( – yonder, over there, nei – nearby, by me) already conveys the alternate, opposite or contrary action. With this in mind, here’s another way of interpreting the two rānei in the above quote

…kia patua rānei, kia wehea rānei.
…whether they should be slain or not, separated or not.

Now it’s no longer simply a case of plan A vs plan B, but whether or not either plan should be done at all. Of course, the trick to learning anything is working out how to apply it in everyday conversations (because I rarely discuss whether or not to slay someone).

Kei a wai aku kī? Kei a koe rānei, kei a Pāpā rānei?
Who has my keys? Do you have them (or not)?
Does Dad have them (or not)?

Kei a wai aku kī? Kei a koe, kei a Pāpā rānei?
Who has my keys? Do you have them, or does Dad?

In the earlier example the two suspects may or may not have the keys, but the latter is a one-or-the-other scenario; one of two definitely has them and we’re asking which. Some people will say it’s not a big difference and you can change the meaning by the tone of your voice but if you’re writing you can’t rely on tonal or physical clues to convey subtleties so it’s easier to be precise all the time. Here are some more examples.

Kua whakapaingia rānei te whare? Kua tunua rānei te tina?
Have you cleaned the house? Have you cooked dinner?
Or have you done neither?

Anei, he pukapuka māu kia pānui rānei, kia tuku rānei ki te kura.
Here’s some books for you to read, to give to the school or whatever.

And lastly my favourite use of rānei

Kia rite rānei! Hei konā au!
Ready or not! Here I come!

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