We've come up with some common Hawaiian words to know for your vacation.  Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages, Hawaiian and English. And although Hawaiian was once widely used conversationally, today it’s common to see and hear just a small percentage of the language. Locals interject words and phrases in conversation and songs, and street and place names often appear in Hawaiian. You may also hear a pidgin form of Hawaiian, which combines elements of both vocabularies. 

An interesting fact about the Hawaiian language is that it only has 12 traditional letters: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. This makes it one of the shortest alphabets in the world.

Friends enjoying a view

Friends enjoying a view

Now, on to vowel pronunciation:

A - pronounced ah, as in father; E - pronounced ey, as in they; I - pronounced ee, as in peep; O - pronounced o, as in own; U – pronounced oo, as in moon

And the consonants:

H, L, M, and N and are all pronounced just as they are in English. K and P are also pronounced the same, but with less aspiration. However, the W can vary a bit. W after i and e is pronounced like a very soft V. After u and o it’s pronounced like W.  Any word that begins with W can be pronounced as W or very soft V.

You’ll also want to know about the 'okina- it’s a glottal stop, or a small break in a word, and is considered a consonant. Think of ‘oh-oh’ in English; that quick pause between ‘ohs’ is like the 'okina. Hawaiian also uses the kahakō, or macron, which emphasizes long vowels. While we certainly respect these symbols as an integral part of the language, we will not be using them here for the sake of simplicity.

Some Hawaiian language tips to remember:

  • Hawaiian words will never end with a consonant, always a vowel.
  • Every syllable must end with a vowel.
  • Every consonant must be followed by at least one vowel.
  • Syllables are only one or two letters long, never longer.

Now that you have the basics down, let’s learn some of the words and phrases you might encounter during your trip.

Aloha - Hello, goodbye; also love, affection. You will usually hear it used as a greeting

Aloha kakahiaka – Good morning

Aloha auinala – Good afternoon

Aloha ahiahi – Good evening

Aloha nui loa – Very much love

Pehea oe – How are you?

Maikai no au – I am fine

Aole pilikia – No problem, you’re welcome

E komo mai – Welcome (greeting)

A hui hou – Goodbye, until we meet again

Mahalo - Thank you

Mahalo nui loa- Thank you very much

Kokua - Mutual assistance, pitching in. You may hear 'Mahalo for your kokua.'

Ohana - Family

Keiki – Child(ren)

Malihini - Newcomer, visitor, or one of unfamiliar or foreign origin

Hale – House, home

Akamai – Smart, intelligent, clever

Wahine - Woman, female

Kane - Man, male

Pau - Done, finished

Hana - Work

Pau hana - End of the work day. (You may see pau hana restaurant and bar specials, or what the mainland U.S. knows as happy hour.)

Okole Maluna – Bottoms up! (A toast)

Pupu – Snacks, appetizers

Ono – Delicious (also a type of fish)

Luau - Hawaiian feast

Hula – Traditional Hawaiian dance

Imu – Underground oven, typically used at a luau

Poi - Hawaiian dish made from crushed taro root

Hulihuli – Rotisserie or end-over-end, as in the style of cooking chicken

Lei - A necklace, usually of flowers, but  is also made of shells or kukui nuts

Kukui – Candlenut tree, the state tree of Hawaii. The nuts have a high oil content and were once used as candles.

Puka - Puka shells are round shells with center holes, strung together to make necklaces. The rare shells are often substituted with beads for jewelry making.

Honu - Hawaiian green sea turtle

Lanai - Balcony, roofed patio, veranda

Koa – Warrior. Also a native tree used to make canoes and other special wooden objects

Holoholo – To travel for adventure and enjoyment. Can also refer to going fishing.

Kapu – Keep out, forbidden. (Please respect these signs when hiking and exploring.)

Makai - Towards the ocean, on the ocean side

Mauka - Towards the mountain, on the mountain side

Moana - Ocean

Pali - Hill

Ala – Path, trail, road

Aina – Land, homeland

Kai – The sea, saltwater

Wai – Fresh water

Pahoehoe – Type of smooth-surface volcanic rock

Malama - To take care of, to tend. Malama aina- To care for the land.

Kamaaina - One of the land, native-born Hawaiians. Also used when referring to long-term residents of the Islands

Hana hou – Do it again, one more, encore. An appreciative response after an event.

Menehune – Mythical and sometimes mischievous small people who are said to be very smart and are known to pierce the hearts of angry people to fill them with love. They are said to magically build large structures overnight.

Wiki - Quick, speedy. The Wiki Wiki is a shuttle system at the Honolulu Airport.

Pono - Right or righteous. Malama pono- Take care, be right (as a parting expression)

Kuleana – One’s personal sense of responsibility, accountability

Alii - Chief, royalty

Kahuna – Expert. Usually refers to a priest, minister, or person held in esteem

Kuuipo - Sweetheart. Often used on jewelry - especially the Hawaiian bracelets worn by wahine

Paniolo - Hawaiian cowboy

Mana – Spiritual or magical power

Nani – Beautiful, pretty

And we’ll close with one of our favorites (now that you’ve practiced):

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa - Topical reef trigger fish; also the state fish of Hawaii

Humuhumunukunukuapua

Humuhumunukunukuapua'a (Trigger Fish)

It’s worth noting that a bit of a Hawaiian language renaissance is underway, as more people are showing an interest in learning this once repressed form of communication.

We hope that this list of Hawaiian words gets you off on the right foot, whether you’ll be using them exclusively on your Hawaii vacation, or you’re looking to delve deeper into this beautiful Polynesian dialect.

Article Edited/Contributed by: John C. Derrick, Michele Lopez, & Victoria Derrick
Published/Updated:

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