It will be neither possible nor desirable to give a detailed account of Māori syntax in this chapter; for this, the reader is referred to the grammars which are available (especially Bauer 1993, 1997, also Harlow 2001). What this chapter will do instead is provide a sketch of the main characteristics of Māori sentence structure, with excursuses as this approach leads to points which are of interest for typological reasons, which raise problems of analysis, or which have excited discussion in the linguistic literature.
Since Bruce Biggs' (1961, see also 1969) detailed treatment of the phrase (in Biggs 1961 called a ‘contour word’, see Mutu 1989:399–400), it is universally recognised as a fundamental unit in Māori grammar in both phonology and syntax. Phonologically, phrase boundaries are the sites of potential (and in careful or slow speech, actual) pauses, and the phrase has a diagnostic intonation pattern of high tone on the last prominent syllable, followed by a low tone. In syntax, not only are phrases coterminous with predicates, arguments and adjuncts, they are also the units in terms of which variations of order within clauses are to be stated. That is, where variant orders are possible, it is phrases, not words within phrases, whose order varies.
Biggs' Item and Arrangement account of the phrase is very ‘flat’ and emphasises the similarity of structure found across all phrasal categories.