Mastering macrons in te reo Māori

(Last Updated On: March 3, 2014)

Keke or kēkē? Cake or armpit? The difference might be just a matter of macrons but it means so much more, as Sarah-Jane McCosh discovers.

Maybe you have to do some classroom signs in te reo Māori? Or your students are writing up their latest project on the computer and incorporating Māori words? Are you a stickler for using macrons, a horizontal bar positioned above a letter to indicate a long-vowel sound – or are you not really bothered?

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) recommends using macrons, not least because they’re useful aids. After all, there’s a significant difference between asking for the keke (cake) or the kēkē (armpit). More importantly, however, not using macrons properly – whether this be substituting umlauts or leaving out macrons altogether – perpetuates a small erosion of the language.

So, how can you include macrons in documents or on signs? Well, there are three main methods:

1. Bespoke font sets, which include macronised vowels. These are fine if you don’t need to share documents in progress with people who don’t have a licence to use these fonts.

2. Macronising software that creates macrons by drawing a bar between the dots in umlauts. Reddfish, for example, macronises font sets, leaving the original font in place. This program is available as a free download from Te Taura Whiri. Users can access it by pressing and releasing the control key before typing the vowel key. However, as with bespoke fonts, anyone sharing the document also needs to install the macronised fonts. PDFing documents will preserve the macrons but makes it hard for multiple authors to edit. If you wish to use an umlaut vowel in the same document you need to insert it from the original font.

3. Converted keyboards. Operating systems such as Windows XP or Windows 2000 support the much larger Unicode character set, which includes macronised vowels. This keyboard definition has since been included in Windows XP Service Pack 2, so if you’ve installed this service pack you already have it. This keyboard uses the ‘dead key’ method. This is similar to the Ctrl key method above, but using some other little-used key such at the tilde (~), then pressing the vowel key.

One last thing, assuming you’re confidently accessing macrons, the next problem is knowing when to use them. Teachers design or re-design a lot of their own classroom learning resources. A reasonable knowledge of te reo is necessary to know if a word contains a macron or not. Getting it wrong means students will see and learn that word or phrase spelled incorrectly.


Creating Web pages using macrons – this is a special case. Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) has instructions for configuring systems for macrons and a link to obtain a downloadable Unicode font.

Online Ngata dictionary, English to Māori and vice versa.
Te Kete Ipurangi, education resources bilingual portal.
Free Māori spell checker and macron creator.

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Categories: Article, Issue 1