FAQ about Māori Dictionaries

Q1. What Māori language dictionaries are available and of what value are they?

There are 4 major dictionaries of Māori, specialist subject, dialect dictionaries, several Māori monolingual dictionaries and learner dictionaries.

Major Māori Language Dictionaries

(1) The most important Māori-English dictionary is H.W. Williams's A dictionary of the Māori language.  The final edition was the 7th (1971). It has been reprinted many times. Commonly referred to as (The) Williams or Te Wiremu. It focuses on traditional Māori vocabulary. Headwords are often in given in a sentence (usually taken from an older manuscript) following each entry.

There are many words in Williams (perhaps 1000s) that are unfamiliar to many native speakers of Māori today. Likewise there are probably 1000s of words currently used by native speakers and second language learners of Māori that are not listed in the dictionary. There are also gaps in Williams's coverage of traditional Māori terms, perhaps more so in dialectal variation in the use of words. Williams is an essential item for students of the Māori language.

Most other Māori dictionaries are based is some extent on Williams. As the last edition is now over 40 years old, it is now out of copyright. It is still print only and readily available in NZ bookstores and 2nd hand book shops.

(2) Another well-known dictionary Ryan's (2012) The Raupo dictionary of modern Māori (4th edition). It is an update of earlier versions of The Reed dictionary of Modern Māori, which first appeared in 1995. The Reed dictionary was based on previous versions of Ryan's dictionary of modern Māori.

Ryan (2012) is not a dictionary in a strict sense, it is a synonymicon, i.e., a bilingual word list. It contains over 50,000 entries in the form of Māori-English and English-Māori word lists. Some of the terms given in Ryan (2012) are new terms proposed by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission). These are unlikely to be widely known by native speakers of Māori. Some may be disappointed that Ryan's dictionary does not give the source of its Māori terms. Users must refer to dictionary like Williams (1971) to determine whether or not terms are traditional Māori words. Ryan (2012) is available in dead tree and kindle format.

(3) H.M. Ngata's English-Māori dictionary appeared in 1993. It contains over 14,500 headwords. An English sentence (containing the headword) is given after each headword followed by the equivalent translation in Māori.

Based primarily on the Ngati Porou dialect (spoken on the East Coast of the North Island). It includes many contemporary terms. The dictionary also contains new terms proposed by Te Taura Whiri. As with Ryan (2012) the sources of the Māori words are not given. There are typographical errors and inconsistencies. Some of the definitions given are somewhat unusual, however it is still valuable. It is said that a revision is being undertaken.

The Ngata dictionary (1993) was online until late December 2014. It has been well received in New Zealand.

(4) John Moorfield's Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary (2011) (3rd edition) is very useful. It derives from Te Kākano series of textbooks for adult Māori language students, which have been available in various multimedia formats for a long time. Te Aka is available online, as an app, and in Pearson VitalSource eText format, but not in kindle or any other common ebook format. The online version of Te Aka is kept up to date and therefore will include more entries and details than the most recent print version.

Specialist Māori Language Dictionaries

(1) The most recent specialist dictionary is He Papakupu Reo Ture: A Dictionary of Māori Legal Terms launched in June 2013. Currently only available in dead tree here.

(2) Te Matatiki (1996) is a source of contemporary Māori words. Based on the 1992 version of Te Matatiki, it contains over 5500 new words developed or collected by the Te Taura Whiri since 1987. Subject areas include: recreation, health, administration, education, science, and mathematics. Unfortunately only available in print and now somewhat outdated.

(3) Te reo pāngarau: a Māori language dictionary of mathematics was published by the Ministry of Education in 2004 and updated in 2011. It was produced by Ian Christensen and a team of maths specialists and includes many excellent examples of terms being used in sentences along with good detailed illustrations. It is aimed at Māori-medium education students and their teachers learning mathematics through the medium of Māori. An online version is available here.

(4) Te reo pūtaiao: a Māori language dictionary of science (2009) is a small dictionary also for Māori-medium education students and their teachers. A online version is available here.

(5) More advanced users and educators will appreciate the Education Review Office's He kupu arotake: a list of terms for education evaluators  (1995).

(6) A specialist Māori business dictionary is Taking care of business: Business terms in Aotearoa, He papakupu pakihi: English-Māori business directory (2005).

(7) Another source of new and technical Māori vocabulary was the New Zealand Council for Educational Research's Kimikupu hou lexical database. The database contains over 21,000 entries. It was once online but has been absorbed by other sources. It is now well out of the date.

(8) Māori computer/IT terminology. Thanks to both Google and Microsoft support there is a now a large lexicon of Māori computer/IT words and phrases. Some of this terminology appears in dictionaries. There is a full database of terms which is continually being developed, but this is not publicly available.

Māori Tribal/Dialect Dictionaries

Ngata (1993) can be regarded as a dialect dictionary. The others include:

He pūranga tākupu a Taranaki focuses on the Taranaki dialect. I am not sure where this can be obtained, other than from a library.

Taitokerau Māori dictionary is here.

Māori monolingual dictionaries

He Pātaka Kupu (2008) is a the only comprehensive Māori available. Produced by Te Taura whiri and aimed at advanced learners. The system of entries is not easy to decipher, including a rather unusual practice of assigning ownership of each lexical item to a Māori god. I suspect the dictionary is little used. Remember, its Māori only. If you are still interested the online version is here.

Tirohia kimihia : a Māori learner dictionary produced by Huia Publishers in 2006 is aimed at Māori-medium students.

Māori Language Learner Dictionaries

Younger or beginning students of Māori language may find Katerina Mataira's A modern Māori picture dictionary (1997) very useful.

There are other learner dictionaries. I suspect adult learners would be better served by Moorfield's Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary, in its various formats.

Two worthwhile Māori essential word lists are Te kete kupu : 300 essential words in Māori (2006) and First thousand words in Māori (2006).

Q2. Are there any Māori language thesauruses?

A2. The only one I aware is New Zealand Māori Word Encyclopedia 2007, by Sally-Anne Lambert. I don't know what is like, but suspect that is primarily based on Williams (1971).

Further Comments

In July 1998 ERI (now known as Wordstream) released a CD-ROM called Te Reo Tupu. The CD-ROM contained full text versions of Williams (1971), Ngata (1993),& Te Matatiki (1996) and a number of a smaller special topic dictionaries in a searchable format. It also contained other information covering pronunciation, proverbs and sayings, colours, tribal regions, and the Māori Language Act. The CD-ROM was available in both Mac & PC formats. Serious students and scholars of Māori language found this tool to be useful. The production of Te Reo Tupu was discontinued in December 2002 and it is no longer available, and Wordsmith refused to allow licensed users to re-install the CD. Wordstream released a searchable web-based version of Te Reo Tupu termed wakareo-a-Ipurangi or simply wakareo. Last time I used it I was not impressed by the interface or display of results.

There are other Māori language dictionaries and lexical resources available. I have only included what I consider to be worthwhile resources.

Other Māori language dictionary projects are currently being undertaken in New Zealand.These will appear in this FAQ when such projects are completed and become publicly available.

Although Māori has better lexical (especially dictionaries) resources compared to many other Polynesian (or endangered languages, in my opinion the existing materials have a number of deficiencies. First, no dictionary provides good etymological (word history) information. Second, there is lack of information on productivity or word frequency. Users can not determine whether or not a word in dictionary is currently being used in modern Māori. Third, dictionaries tend to draw examples from written texts and ignore spoken Māori. Fourth, dictionaries lack information on word pronunciation, especially syllabification and stress placement which learners find difficult.


Amery, H. (2006). First thousand words in Māori (Huia Pubishers, Trans.) Wellington, New Zealand: Huia.

Aotahi LTD (2005). Taking care of business: Business terms in Aotearoa, He papakupu pakihi: English-Māori business directory. Te Kuiti, New Zealand: Aotahi LTD.

Biggs, B. (1981). Complete English ~ Māori dictionary. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Christiansen, I. (2004). Te reo pāngarau: A Māori language dictionary of mathematics. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Cormack, I. (Compiler) (1995). He kupu arotake: A list of terms for education evaluators. Wellington, New Zealand: The Education Review Office.

Gough, M. C., & Taiuru, K., (Eds). (1998). Te Reo Tupu: Māori-English-Māori encyclopedic dictionary, [CD-ROM]. Christchurch, New Zealand: Electronic Reference Information LTD.

Huia Publishers (2006). Tirohia kimihia : a Māori learner dictionary. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia.

Hunia, M. (2006). Te kete kupu : 300 essential words in Māori. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education/Huia.

Māori Language Commission. (2008). He Pātaka Kupu: Te Kai a Te Rangatira. Auckland: Penguin.

Mataira, K. (Ed.) (1997). A modern Māori picture dictionary: He papakupu whakaahua mo te reo Māori. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Moorfield, J.M. (2011). Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary (3rd edition). Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson.

Ngata, H. M. (1993). English-Māori dictionary. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.

Ryan, P. (1995). The Reed dictionary of modern Māori.. Auckland, New Zealand: Reed.

Ryan, P. (2013). The Raupo dictionary of modern Māori (4th ed.). North Shore, New Zealand: Penguin.

Te Reo o Taranaki Charitable Trust. (2008) He pūranga tākupu a Taranaki (2nd ed) New Plymouth, N.Z. : Te Reo o Taranaki Charitable Trust.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori. (1992). Te Matatiki: Nga kupu hou a Te Whiri i te Reo Māori. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori. (1996). Te Matatiki: Contemporary Māori words. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Williams, H. W. (1971). A dictionary of the Māori language (7th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer.

     The 6th edition (1957) of Williams is available on line here.

Last modified: 27 December 2014.

This page is Copyright © Peter J Keegan PhD, 2003-2015. All rights reserved.


Ānei he kōrero mō ngā papakupu o te reo Māori.