How to wash your hands

I have spent a lot of time listening to grammarians and academics talking about the rules of te reo and there was one thing I was certain of: transitive verbs directly followed by the object always use the passive form, whether as an imperative or in a passive sentence.

Tangohia ōu hū.
Take off your shoes.

I’m sure you’ve seen these old signs on cubicle doors:

Horoi o ringa ringa.
Wash your hands.

I never thought about it at the time but I later noticed more modern stickers using the passive ending:

Horoia ō ringaringa
Wash your hands

Tee hee, I thought, all those years the signs were wrong and they’ve finally fixed it. Glad to see that there are translators out there ensuring the quality of te reo Māori, even on something as insignificant as a sticker in the loos.

E hē!!! I was wrong, the ‘correction’ is wrong and whatever tax-payer funded health organisation pays for the sticker is also wrong. I humbly apologise to all my students who I’ve ever chastened for forgetting the passive endings.

When talking about the body, or more specifically one’s own body, the passive form is completely unnecessary. You don’t even need to use personal pronouns (au/koe/ia) because the lack of a passive ending already shows that it’s directed to oneself.

Ka kume ōna makawe.
He pulled at his [own] hair.

When I say that the passive is redundant, it’s only because it’s his own hair. If you used a passive like the example below, it means that one person is the hair-puller and a different person is the victim.

Ka kumea ōna makawe.
His hair was pulled (by someone or something else).

Somehow I only recently discovered that rather glaring exception to the rules. When you consider how often parents tell their kids to attend to personal hygiene it’s kind of important.

Paraihe ō niho. Heru ō makawe. Muku tō kanohi. Whengu tō ihu.
Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Scrub your face. Blow your nose.

Of course, it’s only true when you talk about oneself. If you blow someone else’s nose, you still need to use a passive… and a tissue. And don’t forget to horoi ō ringaringa.


One thought on “How to wash your hands

  1. Kia ora anō
    Ngā mihi ki a koe. I’m hesitant to respond as this makes PERFECT sense to me…but I’m wondering if it’s different when using commands with a bit of tone – Ki a au it sounds better when you use the passive when giving a command…eg – Herua ō makawe. Mukua tō kanohi. Whengua tō ihu…but maybe I’m just use to the sound…and the incorrection?? But again your explanations make sense to me…but I myself am still a learner too.

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