Lest we forget

A long time ago I learnt the word kei to mean lest. I don’t know about you but there’s precisely one time where I hear the word lest being used in English.

Kei wareware i a tātou
Lest we forget

While that’s good to know, it’s only really useful once a year. Aside from that, the only other time I hear the word kei is when telling kids off.

Kaua e piki ki kō, kei taka koe
Don’t climb up there, lest you fall

However I’ve recently been listening to some native speakers and analysing the way that they express themselves and they use kei all the time.

Ko aua tāne ka pūritia ā-roto kei kitea
Those men who hold their emotions in lest they’re seen

It occurred to me that they use kei where I would use kia kore but of course the kei is simpler and sounds much more eloquent.

Ko aua tāne ka pūritia ā-roto kia kore ai e kitea
Those men who hold their emotions in so that they’re not seen

Here’s a couple more examples where it was translated as so that…not.

kei haere mokemoke tātou
so that we don’t go there alone

Te kainga mai o te ika, ka kūmea kia eke ai kei rere te ika
When the fish bites, yank it up so that the fish doesn’t escape

Another way of interpreting kei is or else.

Kia tere kei mahue koe
Hurry up or else you’ll be left behind

Just to confuse things kei also means don’t, although it’s not as common as kaua e.

Kei māngere te ngākau
Don’t be reluctant

I’ve been trying to work out whether kei can be used identically to kaua e, or if it means a little bit more, i.e. ‘so that’ and ‘or else’ as in the examples above. The jury’s out unti I find a few more references.

kei noho koe ā moehewa noa…
(so that you) don’t remain under the wrong impression…

kei poka kē ki tōku
don’t encroach on mine (or else)


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