If I were a bird

I’ve learnt a new way to say if. I’ve been looking at a great book on phrases from Whanganui, Ngā Hau o Tua, Ngā Ia o Uta, Ngā Rere o Tai, which states “instead of using mehemea, it is more common to say: nei, ne-i, ne, or me“, as in the example it gives below

Nei he taonga ka haria e Tame…
If Tame brings a gift…

I use me sometimes but have never noticed nei; I’m gonna have to keep my ears open for some more examples because I haven’t found written ones or references in a dictionary (no surprise there, Te Tai Hauāuru is under-represented in te reo resources).

Anyway, it got me thinking about all those other ‘if’ words and phrases, and I realised that I use mehemea way too often when it’s more appropriate to use one of the others.

Mehemea is widely used these days for ‘if’ though its more accurate translation is “if it happens that…”, “if it’s the case…”, or “if in fact…”. It’s pretty versatile so it gets plonked in front of any old sentence. Mēnā is used in a similar way.

Mehemea ka haere koutou, haria tēnei.
If (it happens that) you go, take this with you.

According to the Williams dictionary mehemea actually implies the opposite of the statement, or in other words wishful thinking:

if I had a million dollars… (but I don’t)
if I were there… (but I’m not)
if I could sing… (but I can’t)

Mehemea kua kaingia e koe ngā korare, māu tēnei pūrini.
If you’d eaten your greens, you’d be having some of this dessert.

Mehemea is made up of three words – me he mea – and the word mea (mea – thing) can be replaced with an actual thing.

Me he manu rere au…
If I were a bird flying…

There’s a lot of kupu whakarite that use me (as if) but it’s often translated as ‘like’.

Me he poaka
Like a pig
It’s as if he’s a pig

Kia is another way of saying if although it’s also used for when/whenever. From an English perspective if and when are two very different words.

When you finish your essay…
Don’t you mean, if I finish my essay?

But from a Māori perspective we can’t predict the future, we don’t know for sure that something will happen. Until it does, it’s always an if although we might change it when translating to English.

Kia hoki mai koe, waea mai.
If ever/whenever you return, call me.

Kia mutu tēnei, me haere tāua ki te taone kai ai.
If/when this gets finished, we should go into town and have a feed.

Ki te…ka is used for if but is used for direct cause and effect; if the first happens, the second will – without a doubt – follow.

Ki te heke te ua, ka mākū ngā kākahu.
If it rains, the clothes will get wet.

Ki te kore koe e whakarongo, ka pukuriri a Māmā.
If you don’t listen, Mum is going to be furious.

Pēnā is can also be used as ‘if that were so’, or ‘if it was like that’.

Kua titiro ki roto i tō peke? Pēnā ki taku peke, kāore āku pātai ki a koe!
Have you looked in your bag? If it were in my bag, I wouldn’t be asking you!

Pēnā tō māua hononga…
If our relationship was like that


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