Once a friend asked me what the difference was between riro and whiwhi as they can both be used for getting or obtaining something. Although I knew them both through context I had a hard time articulating it; I gave her some examples and hoped it was enough.
Since then, I’ve noticed that neither of these words are used as often as their English counterparts by second-language speakers who emphasise the active giving over the passive receiving, perhaps because they’re also unsure how to use them.
Kua hoatu ki a ia te karahipi
He’s been given the scholarship
Sometimes the action of giving/receiving is left out altogether. Not that these sentences are wrong, just different. It’s just not the same as saying that you’ve been given something.
Kei a ia te karahipi
He has the scholarship.
He karahipi tāna.
He has a scholarship.
I most frequently hear the word whiwhi as a casual term for luck.
Nāu te whiwhi
You’re so lucky
Kei te whiwhi anō
We’ve been fortunate
And I always remember the word riro from our Tūwharetoa story of Ngātoroirangi and how Tongariro got its name.
Kua riro ahau i te tonga.
I have been seized by the south wind.
But none of those examples is much help in explaining the difference. Even if you look up their dictionary definitions it’s difficult to work out which is most appropriate to any given situation. But I finally have a really great answer for when to use which one so pay close attention….
If you’re striving and grasping, use riro
If you’re lazy and wait for things to drop in your lap, use whiwhi
Jobs, scholarships, awards, property: these are all things you try to get. Emails, presents, phone calls and advice get given to you whether you wanted them or not.
Kua riro i a ia te karahipi
He got the scholarship
Kua whiwhi ia i ētahi reta
She’s gotten some letters
Of course, there are some examples of whiwhi being used for land, and riro being used for gifts but I still think this is a good guideline to steer you right most of the time.
It probably a good time to make some grammatical notes for the geeks. In the example above whiwhi is used as a transitive verb – however, unlike most transitive verbs it cannot be made passive. You also hear the word whakawhiwhi(a) around, i.e. to cause to receive. It’s used for present, award, and endow rather than the everyday give (hoatu).
Kua whakawhiwhi te Whare Wānanga i ngā ākonga ki ā rātou tohu mātauranga.
The University has awarded the students with their degrees.
(lit. The University has caused the students to receive their degrees).
Anyway, here’s some more things you might wanna get.
Kua whiwhi tamariki anō koe?
Have you got any children yet?
I whiwhi anō a ia i tana mahi tahito.
She was given her old job back.
He utu nui ka riro i ēnei pikitia
These pictures will fetch a good price.
He nui ngā mōhiotanga i riro mai i a ia
She gained many new skills