Basics of the Hawaiian Language

Hawaiians are very proud of their language and culture and tend to be very forgiving and welcoming of all outsiders. Anyone who shows an interest in learning the Hawaiian language and culture tends to be embraced. In general, if you speak a Hawaiian word with a smile and Aloha, it’s OK– you can’t be wrong.

First, some basics of the Hawaiian language.  The 5 vowels a,e,i,o and u as well as the 7 consonants h,k,l,m,n,p, and w make up the entire Hawaiian alphabet.

In the Hawaiian language a consonant is always followed by a vowel which also means all Hawaiian words end in a vowel.​


Names and words are more easily pronounced when they are broken down into single syllable chunks. Sometimes the letter W is pronounced the same as V as in the traditional pronunciation of Hawai’i which is phonetically pronounced huh-vi-ee rather than huh-why-ee. Both versions are considered acceptable.

a: “ah”
e: “eh”
i: “ee”
o: “oh”
u: “oo”

a – ah, as in father: aloha
e – a, as in may: nene
i – ee, as in bee: honi
o – oh, as in so: mahalo
u – oo, as in spoon: kapu

Kikaua Point Beach (North Beach)

Common Hawaiian Words and Phrases

Anyone planning to visit the islands should learn how to pronounce the following words that are widely used:

ListenHawaiian Word English Translation
AlohaLove, affection, hello, goodbye
Aloha kākouAloha to all (including myself) Warmest welcome. Usually said to a group of people. Hawaiian Airlines uses this on all flights.
Aloha kāuaAloha to you (singular) and me
Aloha nui loa Very much love, fondest regards
MahaloThank You
MakaiTowards the sea; the ocean side.
MaukaTowards the mountain; the side facing the mountain.
E Komo MaiWelcome!
PauDone, finished
Pau HanaWork is done
Hana houEncore, do it again. The name of Hawaiian Airlines magazine.

ListenHawaiian WordEnglish Definition
AinaLand especially, Homeland
KamaainaOne of the land. Native-born but also used as a long-term resident of Hawai’i.
AkamaiSmart, clever
HaleHouse or home.
HaoleLiterally, means a person without a country or of known beginning. Often used to identify a person of Caucasian ancestry.
HonuA turtle–especially Hawaiian green sea turtle.
HulaHawaiian dance
KahunaExpert, usually refers to a priest, minister, or person held in esteem.
WahineWoman, female
KeikiChild , children
KuuipoSweetheart. Often used on jewelry–especially the Hawaiian bracelets worn by wahine.
MalamaTo take care of, to tend. Mālama aina: to care for the land.
KapuForbidden. Do not enter.
KokuaHelp, aid, provide assistance.
LanaiPorch, patio, or balcony. Usually at the back of the house.
LeiA necklace, usually, of flowers. Also, shells or kūkui nuts.
LuauHawaiian feast or party
MaikaiExcellent, goodness. Sack and Save grocery has a Maika’i discount card.
MalihiniNewcomer, visitor
OhanaFamily, kin, relative
OnoGood or tasty as in ‘ono grinds (food).
PanioloHawaiian cowboy
PoiA paste made from Taro root. A mainstay of the traditional Hawaiian diet.
PupuSnacks or appetizers
PupuleCrazy (especially referring to a mentally deranged person).
TutuGrandparent (affectionate)
UkuFleas or head lice (as in ‘undesired’ little critters in your hair’).
WikiwikiSpeedy or fast. Honolulu Airport has a Wikiwiki shuttle.


The word “Aloha” is one that is very difficult to define but is very special to the Native Hawaiians. In the Hawaiian language, aloha is not just a greeting or a word to convey love, hello, or goodbye. It has other meanings including, compassion, mercy, grace.

“Aloha” actually comes from two Hawaiian words: “alo” — which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people. And “ha”, which is our breath. When we are in each other’s presence with the front of our bodies facing, we are exchanging the breath of life. So, instead of a word, it’s more of a feeling.

When used in concert with other words, a specific meaning as can be seen as follows:

ListenHawaiian Word English Translation
Aloha kākouAloha to all (including myself) Warmest welcome. Usually said to a group of people. Hawaiian Airlines uses this on all flights.
Aloha kāuaAloha to you (singular) and me
Aloha nui loa Very much love, fondest regards

Hawaiian People You Should Know:

Hawaiian WordEnglish Definition
Ali`iHawaiian royalty
Hoa kulaClassmate
HoalohaBeloved friend
HoapiliClose friend
HuiStaff, team, group
Kahu lioGroom
Kahuna pulePastor
Kaikua’anaOlder brother of a male
KaikainaYounger brother or sister of the same sex
Kaiko’ekeBrother in law
Kaikua’anaOlder sister of a female
KaikunaneOlder brother of a male
KaikuahineSister of a male
KahunaPriest, skilled person, expert in a field
Kane maleMarried man
KupunakaneGrandfather, grandpa, granpa, grampy, gramps, papa, pops
KupunawahineGrandmother, grandma, granma, granny, grammy, grams, nana
KeikiChild, children, kid, kids, offspring
MakamakaIntimate friend
MakuahineMother, mom, mama, mommy
MakuakaneFather, dad, pa, daddy
Mo`iRoyalty, King or Queen
TutuAffectionate name for grandmother or grandfather
Wahine makuaSister in law
Wahine maleMarried woman
Wahine male houBride

More Common Hawaiian Phrases:

Hawaiian PhraseEnglish definition
A hui hou kakouUntil we meet again–as said to a group
Aloha kakahiakaGood morning
Aloha`auinalaGood afternoon
Aloha ahiahiGood evening
Aloha`oeFarewell to you
A`ole pilikiaNo problem, You are welcome
E komo maiWelcome, come in
Hana Hou!One more time! Do it again.
Kipa hou maiCome visit again
MahaloThank you
Mahalo nui loaThank you very much
Malu NoReserved For (Ideal for placecard settings)
Me ka `oia`i`oWith sincerity
Mau LoaForever
Nau wale noJust for you
`O wai kou inoa?What is your name?
Pomaika`iGood Luck