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Tongan for Beginners

Tonga is a group of about 170 islands in western Polynesia in the south Pacific, next to Fiji and Samoa. Archaelogists and linguistic research have shown that the first settlers came at around 1000 BC probably from New Guinea, Indonesia or Philipines. They formed many chiefdoms in the islands which have been united in 1845 into one Kingdom by the King Taufa'ahau Siaosi Tupou I. Tonga is the only country in the region which has never been a colony. Till nowadays they remain the last polynesian Kingdom, almost an absolute monarchy. There are about 110.000 Tongans living in Tonga and about 60.000 or more overseas.

The Tongan language, (a language of the austronesian group), is one of the oldest polynesian languages and the most conservative of all (the populations that settled the rest of Polynesia have begun their journey from Tonga and Samoa). It maintains more phonemes than any other and also it uses the consonants more. It is very close to the languages of Niue and Uvea (Wallis isl.), and similar to samoan, tuvaluan, tahitian, maori and hawaiian, although not mutually intelligible. It is today the mother language of about 120.000 people.

Part one of this course is only intended for absolute beginners.

Part One - The Basics

Lesson One / Lēsoni ‘Uluaki

The Tongan Alphabet / Ko e motu‘alea Tongá

 Letter Name Sampa IPA Equivalence
 Aa   a   [ A, a ]  [ɑ ,a ]  as a in English "father" or like the Spanish a
 Ee   e   [ e, E ]  [e, ɛ ]  as e in English "end" or like the Spanish e
 Ff   fā   [ f ]  [ f ]  as f in English "fool"
 Hh   hā   [ h, x ]  [ h,x ]  as h in English "horse" but more deep in the throat, something between ح and خ in Arabic
 Ii   i   [ i ]  [ i ]  as ee in English "beep" or like the Spanish i
 Kk   kā   [ k ]  [ k ]  as k in English "kill"
 Ll   lā   [ l ]  [ l ]  as l in English "left" but sometimes like r
 Mm   mā   [ m ]  [ m ]  as m in English "man"
 Nn   nā   [ n ]  [ n ]  as n in English "no"
 Ng ng   ngā   [ N ]  [ ŋ ]  as ng in English "singer", not like in "finger" (see notes)
 Oo   o   [ Q, o ]  [ ɒ, o ]  as o in English "odd" or like the Spanish o
 Pp   pā   [ p ]  [ p ]  as p in English "pen" or like in French or in Spanish, unaspirated
 Ss   sā   [ s ]  [ s ]  as s in English "see"
 Tt   tā   [ t ]  [ t ]  as t in English "too" or like in French or in Spanish, unaspirated
 Uu   u   [ u ]  [ u ]  as oo in English "boot", or like the Spanish u
 Vv   vā   [ v ]  [ v ]  as vin English "van"
    fakau‘a   [ - ]  [ - ]   glottal stop (see notes)

So the Tongan alphabet has seventeen letters. It seems small but it is still the biggest Polynesian alphabet. For instance the Sāmoan has fifteen and the Hawai‘ian only thirteen letters!

Don’t ever forget to count the fakau‘a as a letter. For example the word "fakau‘a" has 7 letters, while when we say "the first letter of the word "‘io" we mean the fakau‘a and not the "i"


1. In Tongan there are no consonants’ clusters. That means we will never see two clusters together not separated by a vowel. The letter "ng" is considered one single letter in Tongan, so it is not an exception. Also, all words end with a vowel.

2. The vowels’ clusters: In Tongan there are no diphthongs. That means that in a vowels’ cluster each vowel maintains its original pronunciation. Clusters like "ee" are pronounced eh-eh, "oo" is pronounced oh-oh etc: tatau (ta-ta-oo), toutou (to-oo-to-oo), sai (sa-ee), faingofua (fa-ee-ngo-foo-a), engeenga (e-nge-e-nga)

3. The vowels can all be lengthened. When they are lengthened they are written with a macron ("macron" = "long" in Greek) over them: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. Thus their duration, the time they are pronounced, is doubled. Attention: The macron is not a stress. That means that a vowel with a macron is doubled in duration but it is not stressed as well.

The macron never exists at the penultimate, unless if there is a macron on the ultimate too. When there is a word ending in a vowel with a macron, and it has to take a suffix which will have as a result having the vowel with the macron to be the penultimate, it is doubled and the macron is lifted: fakahā + suffix ‘i --> fakahaa‘i and not fakahā‘i.

4. All Tongan words are stressed on the penultimate. The only exception is if there is a macron on the ultimate. Then the stress falls on the ultimate (ex. fenetā, muikū, pehē, pongatō…). When the words are preceded by some specific articles, adjectives and tense signs their intonation changes and the stress falls on the ultimate. Then this is noted by a stress: Tongá, vaká, tohí, onongó etc. We will mention that when we will talk about these words. If they precede a word with a macron on the utimate, the vowel with the macron is doubled and the stress falls on the second of the two same vowels: fenetaá, muikuú, peheé, pongatoó etc. We will say more about these later also.

5. When we have macrons on both the penultimate and the ultimate syllables, the stress falls on the ultimate. Examples mālō, mālōlō: the stress falls on the last "ō".

6. The letter "ng" is pronounced like in "sing", "singer" and not like in "finger". Thus there is only one single sound produced, not a compound one (n-g). The sound comes from deep in the throat. It was written as "G" formerly and it still is in other Polynesian languages like Sāmoan, Tuvaluan, Futunan, and recently in Māori, but it is the same sound. Its pronunciation can be difficult in some words, but it’s all a matter of practice.

7. The glottal stop (fakau‘a) is a weird sound for the Hindoeuropeans but it is not so exotic since it exists also in Arabic, Hebrew and many other languages. It’s a stoppage of the breath by the closure of the glottis, that is to say, the opening between the vocal hords. It is not a totally new sound though. We all execute a glottal stop when we exclaim "Uh uh!". The grunting sensation that comes between those two words is the glottal stop. It’s very important not to ommit it when talking because the meaning of the word can change.

Greetings, Farewells

These are some of the most common greeting, goodwill, farewell etc expressions in Tongan:

 Mālō e lelei  hello (lit. congrat. on being well, the being in good health is worthy of gratitude)
 Fēfē hake?   how are you? (fēfē means how, hake is idiomatic with fēfē)
 Sai pē  just fine
 Sai  to be good, to be alright, to be well
 Mālō e lava mai  welcome (lit. thanks for coming)
 ‘Io, mālō e tau mo eni  response to mālō e lava mai
 Ko hai ho hingoá?  What’s your name? (ko is an equivalent of the verb to be, hai means which and ho means your. We’ll talk about these later)
 Ko _____ au  I am _______
 Ko hoku hingoá ko _____  My name is _______
 ‘Alu ā ē  Goodbye (to the person leaving) (lit. go on)
 Nofo ā ē  goodbye (to the person staying) (lit. stay there)
 Mou ō ā ē  goodbye (to the persons leaving, plural form of ‘alu ā ē)
 Mou nofo ā ē  goodbye (to the persons staying, plural form of nofo ā ē)
 Faka‘au ā ē  goodbye (to one person leaving, formal)
 Mou faka‘au ā ē  goodbye (to many persons leaving, formal)
 Kātaki  please, excuse me (lit. have patience)
 Mālō  thank you, congratulations
 Mālō ‘aupito  thanks a lot
 ‘Aupito  a lot, much
 Fakamolemole  please, excuse me (lit. to apologize)
 ‘Ofa atu  best wishes (lit. love to you. ‘Ofa means love. It’s much used at the end of letters)

Note: The expressions ending in ā ē are read as one word, the stress falls on ā but there is a rising of the voice on ē. It’s like the rising of the intonation of the word "man" in the English "Go away man!" The ē can be ommited. Those ā and ē are just interjections with no specific meaning.

When one has to say "I am fine, thanks, how are you?", like saying "what about you" he/she has to say fēfē hake koe? Koe is a postponed pron. which means Thou (you singular) and we will talk about it later.

Don’t worry about learning the meaning of each single word in the above expressions because we shall learn them in the next lesson.

That is all for the first lesson. It was a bit long because we had to mention everything about pronunciation. You don’t have to memorize all notes about pronunciation; I just want them to be here so that you can look after them anytime you need to in the future.

‘Ofa atu


 lēsoni  lesson
 ‘uluaki  first
 lea  language, speech, to speak, to talk
 motu‘alea  alphabet
 ‘io  yes, answer to all greetings, compliments and farewells
 ‘ikai  no
 hingoa  name
 nofo  to stay, to remain
 ‘alu  to go
 mou  you (plural)
 hai  who, which

Lesson Two / Lēsoni Ua


 mahino  to understand
 ‘alu  to go (singular form)
 fēfē  how
 lelei  good, well
 tangi  to cry
 pē  just, postposed modifier (see notes)
 sai  fine, well, good, nice
 fetaulaki‘anga  meeting place
 ama  canoe’s windward side
 kata  to laugh
 ha‘u  to come (singular form)
 mālōlō  to rest
 fiefia  happy, to be happy
 mou  you (plural)
 ō  to go (plural form)
 ō mai  to come (plural form)
 ui  to call, to call out
 mohe  to sleep
 pongipongi  morning
 pō  night
 ‘aho  day
 efiafi  afternoon
 ‘ofa  love, kindness, to love, to be kind to, to be fond of


As you have noticed the verbs "to go" and "to come" have different forms for the singular persons and the plural persons. This doesn’t happen with the rest of the verbs though, so don’t panic! We could call these verbs "irregular" if this term can apply in Polynesian languages.

is a very common word in Tongan. It is impossible to find an exact equivalent in English. Often it is used as "just": sai pējust fine, inu pējust drink. Other meanings include "merely, exactly, however, after all, nevertheless". Sometimes it is used indiscriminately, usually after the verb, and it should be untranslatable.


The Imperative

Every verb in Tongan is used also as the singular imperative form without any changes. Thus we have:

 ‘Alu!  Go!
 Mohe!  Sleep!
 Ha‘u!  Come!

The plural is formed by adding the "mou" before the verb:

 Mou mohe!  Sleep! (all of you)
 Mou ui!  Call out! (all of you)
 Mou mālōlō!  Rest! (all of you)


 Mou ō!  Go! (all of you)
 Mou ō mai!  Come! (all of you)

In order to say let’s we use the pronouns ta and tau before the verb. We use ta when two persons are included to the action which will take place and tau when the persons are three or more:

 Ta ō!  Let’s go (us two)
 Tau ō!  Let’s go (us three, four…)

Ta and tau are preposed pronominal pronouns about which we will start talking in the next lesson.

More Greetings

Some more greetings, goodwill, apologies etc

 Mālō e lelei ki he pongipongí ni  Good morning (lit. gratitude for being well this morning)
 Mālō ‘etau lava ki he efiafí ni  Good afternoon (lit. gratitude for we reached this afternoon)
 Mālō ‘etau lava ki he poó ni  Goodnight
 Mohe ā  Sweet dreams
 Mālō e ‘ofa  Thanks for your kindness
 ‘Āua!  Sure! Exactly!
 Ko au  response when somebody’s called your name
 Ē?  Isn’t it? Not so?
 Ē!  Hey!
 Ō?  Sorry?
 Tulou  excuse me (when you are about to pass in front of)
 Mālie  good, splendid, wonderful, well done

And finally a very common interjection which shows surprise, both of happiness and sadness (depending on the way you will say it), is ‘oiauē! It’s like the English wow, oh! It’s the same Māori "auē"

You can find all these Tongan greetings, farewells and other common expressions at the wiki at the address http://home.unilang.org/main/wiki2/index.php/Tongan_greetings_and_common_expressions

 Mālō e lelei Sione  Hi John (Sione = John)
 ‘Io, mālō e lelei  Hi
 Fēfē hake?  How are you?
 Sai pē, mālō, fēfē hake koe?  I am fine thanks, how are you?
 Sai pē, mālō ‘aupito  I am fine, thanks a lot
 Ta inu?  Shall we drink?
 ‘Io, ta inu pē  Yes, let’s drink

That’s enough for the second lesson. In the next lesson I will start adding some exercises in the lessons.

‘Ofa atu

Lesson Three / Lēsoni Tolu


 Fale  house
 ‘Api  house, home
 Fale koloa  shop, store
 Fale ako  school
 ‘Api ako  school
 Fale kai  kitchen
 Kolo  town
 Nuku‘alofa  Tonga’s capital
 ‘Eulope  Europe
 Ou  I (for the present tense)
 Ki  to, towards
 Tahi  sea
 Matātahi  beach
 Vai  water
 Inu  to drink
 La‘ā  sun
 Vaka  boat, ship
 Vakapuna  airplane
 Faiako  teacher
 Ta‘ahine  girl
 Tamasi‘i  boy
 Tamasi‘i ako  pupil (male)
 ‘univēsiti  university
 ilifia  to be afraid
 mālōlō  to rest, (euph.) to die
 mate  to die
 puaka  pig
 mālohi  strong, strongly, hard, powerful, powerfully


1. Don’t forget that there are no diphthongs in Tongan. Thus, the word "ou" is pronounced oh-oo.

2. We learned in the previous lesson the verb akoto study, to go to school. Here we see that with the word falehouse in front of it we form the word "school", that is "house of studying". Thus we have "house of eating" (kitchen), "house of goods" (shop) (koloa - goods) etc. We will find more "fale’s" in the future.


The Present Tense

In Tongan there are only four tenses. Now we will learn the present tense. It’s the equivalent of both the Simple Present and the Present Continuous in English.

In Tongan a verb never changes. There is only one form for each verb. In English for instance the verb "call" can be found as "called", "calling" etc., but in Tongan the equivalent verb, "ui" doesn’t have any other types. It is always ui. So, since verbs are unchangeable, in order to show their tense we put before them other words, which are called tense signs. The tense sign of the present is the ‘oku.

After the tense sign comes the pronominal pronoun, that is the words for "I, thou, he, she, it, we, you, they". In this lesson we will learn only the first person singular pronominal pronoun which is ou. Just keep in mind that the first singular pronominal pronoun has different forms for the four tenses; we will see that later. The rest of the pronominal pronouns are standard for all tenses.

In order to say "I am coming" we have to put first the tense sign (‘oku), then the pronominal pronoun (ou) and then the verb (ha‘u): ‘Oku ou ha‘u

Thus we have:

 ‘Oku ou ‘alu  I am going / I go
 ‘Oku ou mohe  I am sleeping / I sleep
 ‘Oku ou inu  I am drinking / I drink
 ‘Oku ou ui  I am calling / I call
 ‘Oku ou ako  I am studying / I study etc.

You must confess this was easy… Tongan conjugation is very easy because the verb doesn’t change at all and because there are only 4 tenses. We will learn all of them soon.

You can find a full conjugation of a Tongan verb here http://home.unilang.org/main/wiki2/index.php/Tongan_verb_conjugation, but it will be a bit confusing for you now. It will be useful in next lessons though.

The Locational Preposition "ki"

Ki means to, towards. Thus, ‘oku ou ‘alu ki matātahi, means "I am going to the beach", ‘oku ou ha‘u ki ‘api, "I am coming to the house", ‘oku ou ‘alu ki ‘Eulope, "I am going to Europe" etc. Ki shows the sense of the movement towards something.

In Tongan when we want to ask someone where he/she is going we say ‘alu ki fē? means "where". It is a very common question when we meet a friend, or even a stranger in the street, and it is an evidence of friendly interest and not of inquisitiveness. After this specific question we usually answer starting with 'Alu ki... We don't use the 'Oku ou here. It's just an idiomatic expression.

 Mālō e lelei Mele!  Hello Mary (Mele means Mary)
 ‘Io, mālō e lelei!  Hello
 ‘Alu ki fē?  Where are you going?
 ‘Alu ki kolo  I am going to the town
 Sai. ‘Alu ā ē  Nice. Goodbye (go there!)
 Nofo ā  Bye bye

In the next lesson we will learn the rest of the pronominal pronouns and also how to make questions.


Exercise A: Translate the following sentences:
1) I am going to the store
2) I am drinking just water
3) Let us (many) go to the sea
4) I am too happy
5) Good afternoon, come! (pl.)
6) My name is ______, what is your name?
7) Stay (sing.), I am going to the town
8) I am studying hard!


Solution of Exercise A:
1) 'Oku ou 'alu ki fale koloa
2) 'Oku ou inu vai pē
3) Ta ō ki tahi
4) Mālō`etau lava ki he efiafi ni, mou ha`u mai!
5) Ko Tangata`eiki hoku hingoa
6) Ko hai ho hingoá?
7) `Oku ou ako mālohi!

'Ofa atu

Lesson Four / Lēsoni Fā


 Mei  from
 Lau  to mention, to think, to consider, to read
 Lau tohi  to read a letter or a book
 Tohi  book, letter
 Komipiuta  computer
 Fono  a town or village meeting
 Fāmili  family
 Fefine  woman
 Fonua  land
 Pule‘anga  state, kingdom, government
 Tangata  man
 Tu‘i  king
 Pule‘anga fakatu‘i  kingdom, monarchy
 Tala  to tell
 Pehē  to say
 Talanoa  to chat, to talk (in an informal way)
 Hisitōlia  history
 Tēpile  table
 Sea  chair
 Loki  room
 Mohe  to sleep
 Loki mohe  bedroom
 Loki kai  dining room
 Loki mālōlō  W.C.
 Loki talanoa  lounge
 Loki kaukau  bathroom
 Tama ako  pupil, student (more polite than tamasi‘i ako)


More Pronominal Pronouns

We learned in the previous lesson the pronominal pronoun ou for the first singular in the present tense. The second singular pronoun is ke and the third is ne. When ‘oku precedes them, its stress falls on the ultimate and it becomes ‘okú:

 ‘Okú ke ‘alu  you (sing.) are going
 ‘Okú ne ‘alu  he/she/it is going

The pronominal pronouns for the plural are:

 Tau  we, inclusive.  This one is used when both the speaker and the listener are included in its sense. When one says "we are going" and he means "me and you are going" (he includes the listener to the action) he must use the tau: ‘oku tau ō
 Mau  we, exlusive.  This is used when the listener is NOT included in the "we". When one says "we are going" and he means "me and the others, not you, are going" he must use the mau: ‘oku mau ō
 Mou  you (plural).  We already learned that in the imperative: ‘oku mou ōyou are going
 Nau  they: ‘oku nau ō - they are going  The stress of the ‘oku doesn’t change here

These are all for the singular and the plural. They are the same in the rest of the tenses that we will learn later. Only the first singular (ou) has a different form for the other tenses. In Tongan there is also the dual number, which has four more persons that we will learn in another lesson.


In Tongan in order to ask a question one doesn’t have to make any changes in the sentence. The question is shown just with the intonation.

 ‘Okú ke mohe?  Are you (sing.) sleeping?
 ‘Ikai, ‘oku ou mālōlō pē  No, I am just resting
 ‘Oku mou ō mai mei kolo?  Are you (pl.) coming from the town ?
 ‘Io, ‘oku mau ō mai mei kolo  Yes, we are coming from the town


Exercise A: Translate the following sentences:
1) We (incl.) are going to the house
2) Are they just chatting?
3) No, they are reading a letter
4) Are you (pl.) drinking water?
5) Yes, we are drinking just water
6) Are we (incl.) afraid?
7) Are you (pl.) going to Europe?
8) No, we are just going to the city
9) She is coming from the beach
10) Shall we stay?

Solution of Exercise A:
1) 'Okú ta ō ki fale
2) 'Okú na talanoa pē
3) `Ikai, `oku na lau tohi
4) 'Oku mou inu vai?
5) `Io, `oku mau inu pē
6) `Oku tau ilifia?
7) `Oku mou `ō atu ki `Eulope?
8) 'Ikai, 'oku mau ō pē ki kolo
9) 'okú ne ha‘u mei matatāhi
10) `Oku tau nofo?

'Ofa atu

Lesson Five / Lēsoni Nima


 Loi  to lie
 Tala  to tell
 Tahi  sea
 Moana  ocean
 Vaka  boat, ship
 Vakapuna  airplane
 Pālasi  palace
 Fale Alea  Parliament
 ‘Uta  bush, mainland, the land in the interior, away from the coast
 Motu  island
 Mo‘unga  mountain
 Vai  water
 Loto  inside, interior
 Tu‘a  outside, exterior
 Hala  road, street
 To‘omata‘u  right
 To‘ohema  left
 Mu‘a  front
 Mui  back, behind
 ‘Olunga  above
 Lalo  below
 Peito  kitchen
 Fale mahaki  hospital
 Maama  world, earth
 Langi  sky, heaven
 ‘Aneafi  yesterday
 ‘Apongipongi  tomorrow
 Pusi  cat, pussy
 Faka‘ofo‘ofa  beautiful, handsome
 Talavou  good-looking, healthy, youth, young man
 Pe  or
 Lelei  good, well
 Sai  to be well, to be good, to be suitable
 Lahi  very (after the adj. or the adv.)
 Hū mai!  Come in!
 Ta‘u  year
 Pa‘anga  Tonga’s currency: 1 Pa‘anga (TOP or T$) = 100 sēniti


The prepositions ki and mei become kia and meia before names of persons:

 Kia Mele  to Mary
 Meia Sione  from John

Note that in meia the accent falls on ei as if it was a single sound, and not on i.


The Verb "To Be"

In Tongan as well as in the rest of the Polynesian languages there is no exact equivalent of the verb "to be". When we want to say that someone is something we don’t use any verb:

 ‘Oku ou mālohi  I am strong
 ‘Okú ne faka‘ofo‘ofa  she is pretty
Other Prepositions

We have learned till now the prepositions ki (kia) and mei (meia). As we said, ki denotes direction and movement and it is the equivalent of the English "to", "towards" and mei denotes origin and it is the equivalent of the English "from".

The preposition ‘i is the equivalent of the English "in" or "at". It denotes place but not movement. Examples:

 ‘Oku ou ‘i ‘api  I am at home
 ‘Okὑ ke ‘i Tonga?  Are you in Tonga?

Just as the prepositions ki and mei become kia and meia before proper names, the preposition ‘i becomes ‘ia. We will find some examples soon.

The Numbers
 0  Noa
 1  Taha
 2  Ua
 3  Tolu
 4  Fā
 5  Nima
 6  Ono
 7  Fitu
 8  Valu
 9  Hiva
 10  Hongofulu / taha noa
 11  Hongofulu mā taha / taha taha
 12  Hongofulu mā ua / taha ua
 13  Hongofulu mā tolu / taha tolu
 14  Hongofulu mā fā / taha fā
 15  Hongofulu mā nima / taha nima
 16  Hongofulu mā ono / taha ono
 17  Hongofulu mā fitu / taha fitu
 18  Hongofulu mā valu / taha valu
 19  Hongofulu mā hiva / taha hiva
 20  Uongofulu / ua noa
 21  Uongofulu mā taha / ua taha
 22  Uongofulu mā ua / uo ua
 23  Uongofulu mā tolu / ua tolu
 24  Uongofulu mā fā / ua fā
 30  Tolungofulu / tolu noa
 40  Fāngofulu / fā noa
 50  Nimangofulu / nima noa
 60  Onongofulu / ono noa
 70  Fitungofulu / fitu noa
 80  Valungofulu / valu noa
 90  Hivangofulu / hiva noa
 100  Teau / taha noa noa
 101  Teau mā taha / taha noa taha
 102  Teau mā ua / taha noa ua
 110  Teau mā hongofulu / taha taha noa
 111  Teau hongofulu mā taha / Taha taha taha
 120  Teau mā uangofulu / taha ua noa
 130  Teau mā tolungofulu / taha tolu noa
 140  Teau mā fāngofulu / taha fā noa
 200  Uangeau / ua noa noa
 300  Tolungeau / tolu noa noa
 400  Fāngeau / fā noa noa
 500  Nimangeau / nima noa noa
 600  Onongeau / ono noa noa
 700  Fitungeau / fitu noa noa
 800  Valungeau / valu noa noa
 900  Hivangeau / hiva noa noa
 1000  Taha afe
 1001  Taha afe mā taha / taha noa noa taha
 1002  Taha afe mā ua / taha noa noa ua
 1483  Taha afe fāngeau valungofulu mā tolu / taha fā valu tolu
 1930  Taha afe hivangeau mā tolungofulu / taha hiva tolu noa
 2005  Ua afe mā nima / ua noa noa nima
 3000  Tolu afe
 10.000  Taha mano
 100.000  Taha kilu
 200.000  Ua kilu
 1.000.000  Taha miliona
 2.000.000  Ua miliona

As you can see for numbers with more than one digit there two ways to be expressed. First, by adding the mā before the last part (Attention: Only before the last part), and second by naming each digit separately:

547.910 can be expressed as:

a. Nima kilu fā mano fitu afe hivangeau mā hongofulu
b. Nima fā fitu hiva taha noa

900.500 as:

a. Hiva kilu mā nimangeau
b. Hiva noa noa nima noa noa

3.104. 482 as:

a. Tolu miliona taha kilu fā afe fāngeau valungofulu mā ua
b. Tolu taha noa fā fā valu ua

Both ways are totally acceptable.

Just pay attention to the twenty which is Uongofulu and not uangofulu. Also 22 is uo ua and not ua ua, 55 is nime nima and not nima nima and 99 is hive hiva and not hiva hiva.

How To Use Them

The question "how many" is "fiha?" in Tongan. ‘Oku fiha? means "how many are there" but also "how much" when asking for a price.

The cardinal numbers almost always follow the noun and there is an ‘e (or e) between them:

 Fale ‘e taha  one house
 Pa‘anga ‘e hongofulu  ten pa‘anga
 Sēniti e nima  five cents

The number precedes the noun when the noun denotes a period of time. Then the ‘e is ommited:
Tolu ta‘uthree years

The cardinal numbers are used as ordinal also except for the "first" which is ‘uluaki:

Taufa‘ahau Tupou fā: Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV (Tonga’s present King)
Taufa‘ahau Tupou ‘uluaki: Taufa‘ahau Tupou I

As you can see in this case the number is used without the ‘e.


Exercise A: Translate the following sentences:
1) Is Tonga beautiful?
2) Are they at home?
3) No, they are coming from the beach.
4) Tomorrow we (excl) are going to the sea.
5) Tell Mary!.
6) Thou are laughing, thou are happy.
7) I am reading history.
8) We (incl.) are in the dining room.
9) We (incl.) are going to the dining room.
10) They are above.
11) Are you (pl.) in the bush?
12) Get out! (lit. go to the outside)
13) Twenty islands
14) Forty four cents
15) 192 houses
16) 14.947 books


Solution of Exercise A:
1) `Oku Tonga faka'ofo'ofa?
2) `Oku nau `i `api?
3) `Ikai, oku nau ō mai mei matātahi.
4) 'Oku mau ō ki tahi 'apongipongi.
5) Tala kia Mele!
6) Okú ke kata, 'okú ke fiefia.
7) `Oku ou lau hisitōlia.
8) `Oku tau 'i fale kai.
9) `Oku tau ō ki loki kai.
10) `Oku nau `i `olunga.
11) 'Oku mou 'i 'uta?
12) 'Alu ki tu'a!
13) Motu 'e uongofulu
14) Sēniti `e fā fā
15) Fale `e taha hiva ua
16) Tohi 'e taha fā hiva fā fitu

In the next lesson we will learn how to use the articles.

‘Ofa atu

Lesson Six / Lēsoni Ono


 Mala‘e  village green, park, village square
 Puha  box
 Folau  to voyage, to travel, to sail
 Lēsoni ‘ahi‘ahi  exercise, lesson

Try to memorize also the list of the self-defining nouns given in the rules below


The Self-defining & Common Nouns

Till now we have learned the prepositions ki (= to) and mei (= from). You have noticed that we used them right before the noun they identify without any article. We said "ki kolo" and "mei kolo" (to the town, from the town). So we didn’t use any equivalent of the English "the". This doesn’t happen always though. The difference is that in Tongan, all nouns are classified into two categories: self-defining and common nouns. Self-defining nouns are used without the definite article since as their name shows, they are considered definite by themselves. We could say that "they don’t need the article to be definite". These nouns are proper names of persons or places or words which are used as if they were proper names of persons or places. So we say:

 Kia Mele  to Mary (name of a person, self-defining noun)
 Ki Tonga  to Tonga (name of a place, self-defining noun)
 Meia Siosiua  from Joshua
 Mei ‘Amelika  from America

Words which are used as proper names of persons or places: These words are identified as self-defining and are usually put without the definite article. At times they can be used with the article. Then the meaning can remain the same for some of them but it changes considerably for some others. These words are:

a) Words about sea, ocean, island, river, landing places: moana (ocean), vaha (open sea), vai (pool), tahi (sea), matātahi (beach), motu (island), mo‘unga (mountain), ‘uta (the interior of the land), lolofonua (underground), fonualahi (mainland), vaka (boat) [but not pōpaocanoe]

b) Words showing position: loto (inside), tu‘a (outside), mu‘a (front), mui (behind, beyond), ‘olunga (above), lalo (below), to‘omata‘u (right), to‘ohema (left), tokelau (north), tonga (south), hahake (east), hihifo (west)

c) Words denoting buildings, houses, rooms etc: fale, ‘api, loki, fale ako, ‘api ako, peito (kitchen), pālasi (palace), Fale Alea (Parliament), fale mahaki (hospital), hala (road), mala‘e (village green) etc

d) The names of the months

e) The words maama (world, earth), langi (sky, heaven), ‘aneafi (yesterday), ‘apongipongi (tomorrow), (place which is away or the place where someone lives, "my place", "your place" etc)

All these words are self-defining and usually they are not preceded by the definite article. The rest of the nouns form the second category of nouns, the common nouns, which are preceded by the definite article.

The Articles

Tongan has definite and indefinite articles like English. The definite articles are e and he and the indefinite article is ha. First about the two definite articles. The he is used immediately after the prepositions ‘e, ki, mei, ‘i. In all other cases e is used. Attention: When a word is preceded by the definite article, the stress falls on the ultimate.

 ‘Oku ou lau e tohí.  I am reading the book.
 ‘Oku ou tala ki he tamasi‘í.  I am telling to the boy.

The indefinite article is the equivalent of the English a, an, some:

 ‘Oku ou lau ha tohi.  I am reading a book.
 ‘Oku ou tala ki ha tamasi‘i.  I am telling to a child.

In this case the stress does not fall.

The ha can be used with the meaning of "some": ‘Oku ou fiema‘u ha me‘akai = I want some food

Finally the ha is used before nouns identified with numbers:

 Ha vaka ‘e taha  one boat
 Ha fale ‘e ono  six houses

In daily talk when the preposition ‘i is used before the article he, the preposition is ommited:

‘Oku ou ‘i he fonó --> ‘oku ou he fonó

In some cases we can use the definite article before a word, and still not put the accent on the final. In this case there is a sense of indefiness similar to the one expressed with the indefinite ha. The difference is slight and sometimes hard to explain.

Tongan has also emotional articles. These identify nouns for which the speaker feels affection, love or pity. These articles are si‘i (definite) and si‘a (indefinite):

 Te u fakata‘u si‘i pusí.  I will buy the little cat.
 Te u fakata‘u si‘a pusi.  I will buy a little cat.

Here the speaker wants to show his/her love for the cat. Note that with the definite si‘i the stress falls on the ultimate again.

 ‘Okú ne he puhá?  Is it in the box?
 ‘Ikai, ‘okú ne he tohí.  No, it’s in the book.
 ‘Oku mou ō mai mei kolo?  Are you coming from the town?
 ‘Ikai, ‘oku mau ō mai mei he fonuá.  No, we are coming from the land.

Note that kolo didn’t take the definite article he, while fonua did.


Exercise A: Translate the following:
1) Are you (sing.) going to the beach?
2) No, I am going to the canoe.
3) Are they in the school?
4) You (pl.) are sailing from Tonga to Fiji.
5) I am in the palace.
6) Are they in the book?
7) No, they are in the computer.
8) It is in the exercise.


Solution of Exercise A:

'Ofa atu

Lesson Seven / Lēsoni Fitu


 Fāmili  family
 Kāinga  relatives
 Fāngota  to fish
 Mohe  to sleep
 Mohenga  bed
 Fakamohe  to put to sleep
 Kakau  to swim
 Kaukau  to bath
 Fānau  children
 Pēpē  baby
 ‘Otua  God
 Tamai  father
 Kui  Grandparent
 Kelekele  land, soil
 Fonua  land, country
 Fakafonua  traditional, national, pertaining to the land
 Tauhi  to take care of
 Taa‘i  to beat, to hit
 Faiako  teacher, to teach


More On Articles – the focus markers – transitive and intransitive constructions

In the previous lesson we learned the structure "‘Oku ou lau e tohí" (I am reading the book). As we said, e is the definite article. In fact this is the way Tongans speak. In written form this sentence would be ‘Oku ou lau ‘a e tohí. This ‘a is the focus marker and it is usually ommited in daily talk. In the European languages, the distinction is subject-object. The subject is in the nominative, while the object in accusative, dative etc. In Tongan the distinction is different. There is the focus marker ‘a which denotes "the focus of the verb’s action". With intransitive verbs, this is the equivalent of the European "subject". See the following paradigms:

 ‘Oku mohe ‘a e tamasi‘í  The boy is sleeping
The boy is the focus of the verb’s action.
 ‘Oku tangi ‘a e fefiné  The woman is crying
 ‘Oku ō ‘a e fānaú  The kids are going
 ‘Oku kaukau ‘a e fa‘eé  Mum is taking a bath
 ‘Oku kai ‘a Paula  Paul is eating

With transitive verbs though, the focus of the verb’s action is the object:

"The boy is reading the book" – The focus of the verb’s action is the book. The action and its consequences are lead towards the book. In this case, the ‘a will precede the word for "book". The other noun, the boy, will be preceded by another marker, ‘e. When the noun is not proper, ‘e is followed also by the definite article he:
‘Oku lau ‘e he tamasi‘í ‘a e tohí

Note that the word order is VSO. More examples:

 ‘Oku tauhi ‘e he fa‘eé ‘a e fānaú  The mother is taking care of the kids
 ‘Oku taa‘i ‘e he tangatá ‘a e ta‘ahiné  The man is beating the girl
 ‘Oku fai ‘e Sione ‘a e lēsoní  John is doing the lesson
 ‘Oku tauhi ‘e he Tu‘í ‘a e kakaí  The King takes care of the people

Note again that proper nouns, like Sione, Paula etc. are not preceded by the definite articles e and he. The word ‘Otua is not considered to be a proper noun and it takes the definite articles.

Remember that in daily talk the focus marker ‘a is ommited:

 ‘Oku kata e tangatá  The man is laughing
 ‘Oku tauhi ‘e he fa‘eé e pēpeé  The mother takes care of the baby
 ‘Oku talavou e fefiné  The woman is beautiful

When the object of a transitive construction is not something specific, one particular object, person etc then it comes right after the verb without any articles:

 ‘Oku inu vai ‘a e tamasi‘í  The boy is drinking water
 ‘Oku kai talo ‘a e fefiné  The woman is eating taro

You can see here that although the verbs are transitive according to the European standards, the construction in Tongan is intransitive. The focus marker ‘a remains before the subject. Contrast the following:

 ‘Oku inu ‘e he tamasi‘í ‘a e vaí  The boy is drinking the water (some specific quantity of water)
 ‘Oku kai ‘e he fefiné ‘a e taló  The woman is eating the taro (some specific piece of taro)


Exercise A: Translate the following sentences, as they would be in written language:
1) Is Tonga beautiful?
2) The pupil is lying.
3) The teacher beats the pupil.
4) The boy is swimming.
5) The woman is resting.
6) The man is taking care of the children.
7) The father is putting the baby to sleep.
8) Are you (plural) at the kitchen?
9) She is going to the hospital.
10) I stay at home.

Exercise B: Translate the following sentences as they would be in spoken language:
1) The kids are drinking kava.
2) The kids are drinking the kava.
3) The family is fishing.


Solution of Exercise A:

Solution of Exercise B:

'Ofa atu

End Of Part One

This is the end of part one. Now you've learned some of the basics of the Tongan language. In the future we might create a part two of this course but for now this is all.

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