100 Useful Hawaiian Words + Phrases To Know Before Your Trip To Hawaii
The Hawaiian language is a perfect introduction into the culture and traditions of the region and its people. This beautiful archipelago, located in the tropical North Pacific archipelago more than 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, feels like a world of its own, yet its 1,500-year-old culture is totally worth exploring. One of the best ways to acquaint yourself with Hawaiʻi is through its language. Hawaiian, a Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family is one of the oldest living languages in the world with words and phrases that are as beautiful as meaningful. It forms a sacred and respected part of Hawaiian culture. Here is a traveler’s guide to the most important Hawaiian words to know before you visit.
Learning a few words from Hawaii is not only a way to celebrate, respect, and appreciate the people of Hawaii, but also a way to provide a deeper understanding to this exotic tropical island destination where words and traditions are closely intertwined. In turn, your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
You will also find a list of the best words in Hawaii to use, Hawaiian greetings and useful conversational words that will come in handy, popular Hawaiian phrases to sound like a local, cultural Hawaii words, and the common words in Hawaiian to make your experience that much better.
>> Must read:
100 fascinating and fun facts about Hawaii
Did you know:
Hawaii is the only state in the USA with two official languages.
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Here’s a quick look at the…
Language of Hawaii ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i
A brief history of the Hawaiian language….
Prior to 1826, Hawaiian remained primarily as a spoken language. It wasn’t until the arrival of the missionaries that it was turned into a written language.
The Hawaiian-language constitution was initiated by King Kamehameha III in 1839 where it remained as the primary language until the late 19th century.
In 1898, following the overthrowing of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the language was banned from being spoken as well as the main language of instruction in government and schools.
During the 1970s the Hawaiian culture went through a bit of a rebirth and renewal sparking the language’s return from the border of extermination.
The ban was officially lifted in 1986, however the language and its use has declined significantly. UNESCO classifies Hawaiian as a critically endangered language, with only around 2,000 native speakers.
It is encouraged to learn and practice the language that is an essential component of Hawaiian heritage and culture.
Hawaii is at the top of the American bucket list.
Check out this list of the best 100 places to visit in the the U.S.
The Hawaiian alphabet (pī‘āpā) consists of only 13 letters.
These are: A E H I K L M N O P U W ‘
Made up of:
- 5 vowels: A (‘ā), E (‘ē), I (‘ī), O (‘ō), U (‘ū),
- 8 consonants: H (hē), K (kē), L (lā), M (mū), N (nū), P (pī), W (wē), ‘ (‘okina)
Many Hawaiian words contain what looks like an apostrophe. This is called an ‘okina and signifies a phonetic glottal stop, while the kahakō indicates an elongated vowel.
Did you know: All Hawaiian words end in a vowel.
Go through this list of words from Hawaii and see if you can spot one that contradicts this rule.
The basics of pronouncing Hawaiian words
You should know that every vowel is pronounced in Hawaiian. The words about Hawaii may look long and intimidating at first, but if you break it down, you should have no problem at all.
The letters are pronounced just as they are in English.
- a: ah
- e: eh
- i: ee
- o: oh
- u: oo
15 Useful Hawaiian Words and Phrases for Travelers in Hawaii
Ok, so your flight to Hawaii is booked. Your bags are packed. Your excitement levels are through the roof. Just one thing left…. Let’s learn some of the best Hawaii words and phrases! Be sure to bookmark this post, so that you can easily find it during your trip. Commit a couple to memory or copy and paste for your convenience.
The main Hawaiian words to know as a visitor:
A Hawaiian greeting to say hello or goodbye, meaning love
- Mahalo — thank you
- Ohana — family
- Lū’au — a traditional Hawaiian feast or party.
- Hula — a traditional Hawaiian dance
- A hui hou — until we meet again
- Shaka — a hand symbol symbolizing island spirit
- ‘Ono grinds — delicious food
- Honu — green sea turtle
- Lei — a garland of flowers
- Mauka — towards the mountain
- Makai — towards the ocean
- Aloha wau iā ‘oe — I love you in Hawaiian
- pomaika’i — good luck or good fortune
- ’Aina — it means land or literally, that which feeds us.
Continue reading to learn more about these words Hawaiian + others…
The Most Important Hawaiian Words
Here are a couple of Hawaiian sayings that I would recommend to learn before your trip to Hawaii:
- Aloha — Hawaiian greeting meaning love
The most commonly used and important word in the Hawaiian language is Aloha. You will hear this word everyday, numerous times a day, all across the Hawaiian archipelago. Aloha is also internationally renowned and the most recognized Hawaiian word.
Aloha is used as a greeting and as a form of farewell to say hello and goodbye.
The word means love, but it’s so much more than that. By saying this, you are invoking best wishes on the recipient for a positive and happy life. In addition to love, Aloha also represents kindness, compassion, respect, goodness, and affection.
Aloha has a significant cultural sentiment in Hawaii. Its embodiment is so deep that Hawaiians believe there is no true English equivalent.
It really is a way of life. To do something ‘with Aloha’ means to do it with your soul.
When in Hawaii you can’t help but feel the Aloha spirit.
Other variations of Aloha (with some Hawaiian greetings) include:
- Aloha kākou! — Greetings to all!
- Aloha kakahiaka — Good morning
Pronounced a-lo-ha kah-kah-hee-yah-kah
- Aloha ‘auinalā — Good afternoon
Pronounced a-lo-ha ah-wee-na-la
- Aloha ahiahi — Good evening
Pronounced a-lo-ha a-hee-yah-hee
- Aloha awakea — Good day
Pronounced a-loh-ha av-ah-kay-ah
use this when it’s late morning, but not quite midday or afternoon yet.
- Aloha nui loa — all my love in Hawaiian
pronounced: a-lo-ha new ee low a
- Aloha wau iā ‘oe — This is how you say I love you in Hawaiian.
- E Ku’u Aloha — my love
- Aloha ‘oe — farewell to you
- Aloha ‘āina — Love of the land
this means to love the land that fosters actions of nurture and care.
Other practical words about Hawaii to know:
- Mahalo — Thank you
In addition to saying thanks, mahalo is an expression of deep gratitude, praise, respect, and admiration. A simple way to show appreciation.
If you want to be extra appreciative, use Mahalo nui loa (mah-ha-loh new-ee loh-ah) which means, thank you very much.
Hawaiians are friendly and helpful. Saying “mahalo,” is a great way to acknowledge this.
- ‘A’ole pilikia — you’re welcome/no problem
Pronounced ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah
A typical response to Mahalo or when someone thanks you for anything to say it was no trouble.
- Ohana — family
An essential word that forms the basis of Hawaiian culture, Ohana not just means family, but goes much deeper and encompasses all close relationships. In Hawaii, family is everything.
This beautiful Hawaiian word is used to emphasize the bond shared between both blood relatives as well as people who share a strong connection. Members must look after one after and always maintain mutual respect through their shared living experience.
Related is the word “hui,” used to refer to the people that are closest to you such as immediate family and best friends.
- Keiki — child or children
- Howzit — how are you?
Also used in South Africa, this common Pidgin greeting is the equivalent of saying what’s up. When greeted with “howzit,” you can respond with the same term.
Widely used in surf culture, this slang word (or rather, a hand gesture) is used as a way to show approval or as a friendly and relaxed greeting. It is an expression of solidarity, relatability, and friendship.
This popular hand gesture symbolizes island spirit and is formed with the middle fingers closed into the palm as if one is making a fist, while the thumb and pinky fingers are extended out.
You will also notice this action while driving as a form of courtesy to other drivers on the road.
- ‘Ae — Yes
- A’ole — No
- U‘i — Handsome, pretty, or beautiful
- Honu — turtle
Specifically a green sea turtle. This is an important term to Hawaiians as the honu are a form of guardian spirit (amakua) and a symbol of wisdom and good luck.
Green sea turtles are protected in Hawaii as an endangered species. They are not allowed to be touched or fed and a sufficient distance must be maintained at all times.
- Mana — spiritual power
- Nani — beautiful, enjoyable
- Hauʻoli — to be happy
Hawaiian Greetings and Signs
Here are some essential words in Hawaii to be on the lookout for even though many signs are written in both Hawaiian and English.
- Wahine — female
You’ll spot this outside the women’s restroom.
- Kāne — male
Pronounced as KAH-neh
You’ll spot this one outside the men’s bathroom.
- Kapu — taboo or forbidden
This is how you say keep out in Hawaiian. It is how locals and residents mark their private properties or sacred sites and should be respected as no trespassing.
- E komo mai — Welcome, come in
Pronounced: eh ko-mo my
You will see this Hawaiian sign on storefronts, restaurants, and other businesses.
- Lanai — patio or balcony
- Opala — trash can
- Malu No — reserved for
- Hale — home
Best Hawaii Words for Food
Food is an essential part of everyday life and culture in Hawaii. By learning the most common words associated with food, you’ll be able to easily navigate your way through food markets, restaurants, and even have a deeper appreciation of the traditional food that you will come across. If the food is delicious, express it. This is how you do it…
‘Ono — delicious or tasty
This can often be paired with…
‘Ono grinds — delicious food
Pronounced oh-no grinds
Grinds refers to getting food at a restaurant or as a take-out. Combined with ‘ono, it is a way to compliment the food that is tasty.
All that delicious Hawaiian food means you’re going to be using this word a lot.
Poke — bowl of seafood
This word’s literal translation is “to slice into pieces.” But it is used to describe the famous Hawaiian dish that comprises a salad of marinated bite-size pieces of raw seafood and vegetables.
The most common form of poke is marinated tuna served in soy and sesame oil. This appetizer is a must try when in Hawaii and since you’ll find it on almost every menu, it won’t be hard to resist.
Other food words in Hawaiian to now:
kaukau — food
inu — drink
pololi — hungry
ʻAi — to eat
Come and eat: Mai e `ai
E ʻai kākou — Let’s eat
ʻOno loa kēia! — This is very delicious!
‘Aina Kakahiaka — breakfast
Pūpū (poo-poo) — snack or appetizers
hala kahiki — pineapple
Niu — coconut
Kope — coffee
Limu (lee-moo) — Seaweed
Waina (wy-nah) — wine
Poi (poy) — a common Hawaiian dish of cooked taro root that has been pounded and turned into a paste.
Malasada (mah-lah-sah-dah) — a Portuguese donut that has been deep fried and dusted in sugar.
Kālua (kah-loo-ah) — baked in an underground oven
Words in Hawaiian to help you navigate better
English is widely spoken throughout Hawaii, so getting directions or asking for the nearest toilet won’t be an issue. However, these words will come in handy and make your stay much easier.
- Ma uka — inland or towards the mountain
- Ma kai — downland or towards the ocean
Locals use ma uka and ma kai as reference points when giving directions. Mauka is said when referring to something that is toward the mountain, while makai is the opposite of this, referring to something that is in the direction of the ocean.
You will often also hear windward for the windier eastern part of the island and leeward for the western and dry part of the island.
- Kālā — dollar, money
- Holoholo — This is one of my favourite words about travel and it means to ride or walk around for pleasure. Something I do a lot when exploring a new country.
- Hele — go, travel
- Kōkua — help
- Pali — cliff
- Moana – Ocean
- Wailele — waterfall
- kahakai — beach
To say, lets go to the beach, use – E hele kāua i ke kahakai. With an unlimited number of beautiful beaches, you’re going to use this a lot.
- Kai — ocean
- Mauna — mountain
- Moku — island
- Lua — bathroom/toilet
pronounced loo-ah. So if you need the toilet – say, Aia i hea i ka lua
- Kaʻa Hai — taxi
- Kaʻa ʻŌhua — bus
- Mokulele — airplane
- Wikiwiki — speedy
This is the word you’ll hear often at the airport, especially Honolulu International. It refers to the airport shuttle and ground transportation between terminals.
Hawaiian Phrases for holidays and cultural events
Words in Hawaii are deeply entrenched in the culture of the land and its people. Here the most commonly used Hawaiian phrases that you will accustomed to during your time here. Knowing and understanding these Hawaii words will allow you to appreciate and respect your interactions that much more…
- Lū’au — a traditional Hawaiian feast or party.
No visit to Hawaii is complete without getting to experience a lū’au. This event is smooch more than just a party of song and dance. Experience the wonders and joy of a lū’au in person and then tell me what you think.
A lū’au is usually accompanied with a hula.
- Hula — a traditional Hawaiian dance
This dance of Hawaii, often accompanied by chants and music, is used to tell stories, preserve ancient customs, and to pass on generational traditions.
- Lei — a garland of flowers, feathers, shells, and nuts given as a symbol of welcome, friendship, affection, and aloha.
As a visitor to Hawaii, you will most likely be given a lei on your arrival and departure.
Speaking of parties, the Hawaiian phrase E hele kāua means let’s party.
- Heiau — Hawaiian temple/shrine/place of worship. A sacred place.
While exploring the islands, be mindful of this sign and its significance to main respect at these holy places.
- Kama’aina — child of the land
pronounced: KAH-mah AYE-neh
The literal translation, child of the land, is used to denote a local Hawaiian resident or someone born here with native Hawaiian ancestry. You may come across “Kamaʻāina discounts” at certain attractions or stores that are reserved for Hwaiian residents.
- Kuleana — responsibility
Pronounced: koo-lay-ah-nah, it refers to, in particular, the responsibility we have with regards to the land, sea, and natural resources of our planet.
- ’Aina — it means land or literally, that which feeds us.
It is believed that the land is sacred and the ‘aina should be treated with reverence and respect.
- Akua — God
- Koa — bravery and courage
- Laule‘a – peaceful happy
- Ho`olaule`a — a celebration
- Hau’oli Lanui — happy holidays
pronounced: how-oh-lay la-new-ee
- Hau‘oli lā Hānau — happy birthday
pronounced: how-oh-lay la ha-now
- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou — happy New Year
pronounced: how-oh-lay ma-ka-hee-key ho
- Hau’oli La Ho’omakika’i — happy Thanksgiving
pronounced: how-oh-lay la ho-o-ma-key-kah-ee
- Mele Kalikimaka — Merry Christmas
pronounced: may-lay ka-lee-key-ma-ka
Days of the Week in Hawaiian
Monday – Po’akahi (poh ah-kah-hee)
Tuesday – Po’alua (poh ah-loo-ah)
Wednesday – Po’akolu (poh ah-ko-loo)
Thursday – Po’aha (poh ah-ha)
Friday – Po’alima (poh ah-lee-mah)
Saturday – Po ‘aono (poh ah-o-no)
Sunday – Lapule (lay-poo-lay)
Useful Conversational Words in the Hawaiian language
- `O wai kou inoa? — What is your name?
- Pehea ‘oe? — How are you?
- Maikaʻi au — I am good
- Hui! — hey you
- E kala mai — excuse me
Pronounced: eh kah-lah mah-yee
- Kipa hou mai — Come visit again
- Pomaika’i — good luck or good fortune
- Hana Hou! — One more time!
- Kanak attack
That feeling of intense laziness you get from overeating. e.g. after eating four plates of food at the festival last night I had a major kanak attack.
- braddah — the colloquial term in Hawaii for brother.
- Lani — heavenly sky
- Nau wale no — Just for you
- I lā maikaʻi! — have a good day
- Ku`uipo — sweetheart
Other Commonly Used Hawaiian Phrases and Words
Here are a final few words about Hawaii that may come in handy for everyday use during your time in Hawaii. Some are a a mix of Hawaiian and Hawaiian Pidgin.
- A ‘o ia! — There you have it! Or You’ve got it!
This is a phrase to show cheer, encouragement, and excitement. An ideal way to root someone on throughout the islands of Hawaii.
- A hui hou — Until we meet again
This is how you part ways in Hawaii.
A hui hou kākou is said to a group of people.
- Haole — a foreigner or non native Hawaiian, usually reserved for caucasian.
pronounced: how leh
- Malihini — new comer/visitor
- Da kine — whatchamacallit, a catchall phrase, if you will.
From pidgin terminology, pronounced duh-KYNE
This is the word to use when you can’t think of the word you want to use. A fill-the-blank type of word. It is an incredibly versatile word in Hawaiian that can be used in place of just about anything for which there is no word or you don’t have the specific word.
- napo’o ‘ana o ka la — sunset
- Pau hana — time after work or happy hour
pronounced: pow ha-na
This is how the locals say that they are finished working for the day. It is considered a time of relaxation, enjoyment, and a time for socializing with friends and family.
You will often seen Pau Hana specials in bars and restaurants.
- Auntie/Uncle — these are terms of endearment that are used to reference elders, irrespective of blood relations.
- Hu’i hu’i — cool
- Kūlia i ka nu’u — to do your best
- Ho’omau — the ability to persist, even when times are tough, and to never give up.
- Nail — wave/surf
- Shoots – Hawaiian slang for okay
- Chee-hoo — an exclamation of excitement
- No Ka ‘Oi — the best or the finest
- Makana — gift
- Mau Loa — forever
>> Must read:
The cheapest islands to visit around the world
I hope you have a wonderful time in Hawaii.
A hui hou kākou,