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learn hawaiian

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 Speak Hawaiian Like a Local ;-)

The truth of the matter is Hawaiian-speaking locals are a small minority, albeit a fast-growing one with the cultural renaissance and the revival of the Hawaiian language. Like most locals, I grew up learning a number of Hawaiian words. We liberally peppered our daily conversations with them, although we never spoke Hawaiian as a language, per se.

These are glosses, to be sure, but the words on this list is sure to give a beginner a measure of confidence, if not a major headstart in learning Hawaiian as a language. These are words that are commonly used in "localspeak." Try substituting appropriate Hawaiian words in your conversations; in no time, you too may be speaking Hawaiian like a local. Then, you can start working on speaking Hawaiian like a Hawaiian.

Remember: anything worthwhile or of true value requires time, effort, commitment, and patience.

Source: Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H.,
Hawaiian Dictionary, Revised
and Enlarged Edition, University Of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.















 Pronunciation Guide








English speakers say "um" when they pause or stammer while thinking what to say next. Hawaiians say, "`¬."

[ai (Y)AH' !]



Oh no! (Gasp!) Ouch!

Use this when something goes wrong. It is also used to express surprise, as from sudden expected pain.

A hui hou!
[ah hui hou!]

Good bye! See you later!

Lit., "Till (we) meet again".

[ah AH']

rough, clinkery lava

Vs., p‚hoehoe (smooth lava).

[ah ah' mah]

large, black edible crab

Often seen scampering on the rocks. Eaten raw and salted, soft-shelled as caught when shedding old shell.

[ah hah hah' nah]



a taunting sing-song phrase, meaning "You're gonna get it!"

Other versions:
Ahana [ah hah nah],
Ahana kŰkŰlele
[ah hah' nah KOH' KOH' leh leh]you brok' my `ukulele!

[ai KAH' neh]

friend, pal, buddy; friendly


[ah' hee]


yellow-tail tuna

Makes `ono (delicious) poke (marinated raw fish chunks). Delicious, seared and served rare. More on Hawaiian fish.

[AI' nah]

land, earth

As in, "Aloha `¬ina" , (love of the land or of one's country)

[ah kah mai']

smart, clever, wise, intelligent

Learn more about describing people.

[ah koo' (w)ah]


Preceded by ke (the), as in "ke Akua" [keh (y)ah koo (w)ah].

[AH' koo lee koo lee]



Ice plant, a succulent, cultivated at elevations of 1000 feet or more.

Iridescent flowers are made into lei; 500 blossoms if strung by fives to make a lei `‚`Ó (lei for the neck):370 for a lei po`o (head lei) or a lei p‚pale (hat lei).

[ah' lah]

Ala Moana is pronounced [ah' lah moh (w)ah' nah]. Absolutely not: [alley-mo-wan- nah]

road, path / rise, awaken

Ala Moana Boulevard is redundant terminology:

Ala = road
moana = open sea boulevard = broad avenue (in French).

[ah lah noo' (w)ee]

street, road

Lit., "big path".

[ah lee' ee]


chief / chiefess, royalty, /nobility/ a member of the chiefly class

These days, airlines use this word to signify "first class" , as in ali`i class.

[ah loh' hah]



love, greetings, goodbye, pity, compassion, mercy, affection, farewell ; spirit of love, affection, kindness

As in: Aloha wau i‚ `oe (I love you); Aloha `oe (Farewell to you). Click here for more on Aloha.

[AH' noo (w)eh noo (w)eh]




M‚noa Valley, O`ahu, where the University of Hawai`i, M‚noa is situated, is famous for its rainbows. No surprise, that the students and athletes are known as "The Rainbows".

[au (w)ah nah]

to go from place to place; wander; to drift

As in modern style of hula. Learn more about the different kinds of hula.

[au' au]

to bathe

As in, E `au`au ! (Go bathe!)

[au WEH'!]



Alas! Oh no! Drat! Oh dear! Oh boy! Too bad! Goodness! Oops!

This word is probably the best known expression of emotion in Hawaiian. It is a socially acceptable expletive to express wonder, fear, scorn, pity, disgust.

[au MAH' koo (w)ah]

ancestral, guiding spirits

More here on `aum‚kua.

`AuwÓ !

[au WEE'!]


Learn more interjections.

[ah wah poo' hee]


wild flowering ginger plant, a forest herb

Fragrance of its flowers are heavenly ambrosia for the olfactories. Ingredient of Paul Mitchell's shampoo of the same name

Hawaiian Words & Phrases to Express Love

These Hawaiian Words and Phrases are ideal for wedding invitations, wedding announcements, 
wedding gift thank you notes, and to add a Hawaiian flare to any wedding ceremony. If you choose to use Hawaiian phrases be sure to also provide the English translation so the phrase can be understood.

'Aha'aina Male ~ Wedding Feast
A O Ko Aloha Ka`u E Hi`ipoi Mau ~ With you joy will ever be mine
A O `Oe Ku`u Pua ~ You are my blossom
Aka`aka Loko I Ka Ike A Ke Aloha ~ The secrets within me are seen through love
Aloha Au Iaoe ~ I Love You
Aloha No Au Ia 'Oe ~ I Truly Love You
Aloha Nui Loa ~ All my love
E Hookumu Maua Ka Hale Puni Maua Ohana Me Ka Pumehana A Me Ka Oiloli Kealoha ~ May we create a home that surrounds our family and friends with warmth, laughter and love.
E Hoomau Maua Kealoha ~ May our love last forever
Hele Mai 'Oe I Ko Maua Male 'Ana ~ Come to our wedding
Ia Iho Ke Aloha ~ To my love
Ka`u Ia E Lei A`e Nei La ~ I pledge my love to you alone
Ke Aloha ~ Beloved
Ko Aloha Makamae E Ipo ~ Sweetheart you are so precious
Ko`u Aloha ~ My Love
Ku`u Lei ~ My beloved
Male 'ana ~ Wedding
Me Ke Aloha ~ With love
Me Ke Aloha Pumehana ~ With the warmth of my love
Mau Loa ~ Forever
Nau ko`u aloha ~ My love is yours
Na'u `oe ~ You're mine
Nou No Ka `I`ini ~ I desire you
'O Ku'u Aloha No 'Oe ~ You are indeed my love
O Wau Me Oe Kealoha A O Oe Kealoha Me Ia'a ~ I am my beloveds' and my beloved is mine
Pili Olua E, Moku Ka Pawa O Ke Ao  ~You two are now one, the darkness is past
Ua Ola Ae Nei Loko I Ko Aloha ~ Life is once more alive within me for my love of you

Glossary of Hawaiian Words and Local Idioms

These words and phrases appear in our stories but may not be known to some readers. Primary sources are the Hawaiian Dictionary (University of Hawai'i Press) and Pidgin to da Max (Bess Press).

Two diacritical marks are prevalent in the Hawaiian language: the 'okina, or glottal (') and the kahako=, or macron. Most fonts can't show the kahako=, which is a line over the appropriate letter. Therefore, we do not use them in Island Scene Online stories. But an "=" after the appropriate letter indicates a kahako= in this glossary.

Hawaiian Words
A | E | H | I | K | L | M | N | O | P | U |W


A Back to Top
The red-footed, brown, or masked or blue-faced booby. All indigenous to Hawai'i and also breeding elsewhere.

Jagged, rocky lava.

Yellowfin tuna.

Land, earth.

In most common usage, a modifier meaning smart, clever or witty.

Chief, ruler, monarch.

There are over 30 shadings of meaning under the entry in Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary. The most common are love, affection, compassion, kindness, greeting, farewell and regards.

A group of small endemic Hawaiian honey creepers, with yellow and greenish feathers.

A family or personal god or a deified ancestor who might assume the shape of an animal like a shark, octopus, bird or dog, or even an object like a rock or a cloud.

Ditch, canal.

Kava. A plant of the pepper family that is native to Pacific islands, its root is the source of a narcotic drink.

E Back to Top
Area west of Honolulu, used as a direction term for west.

H Back to Top
A hula school; a meeting house for hula instruction.

House, building, lodge, hall; to have a house.

hale ku='ai
Store, shop.

hana hou
To do again, repeat, renew, repair, mend; encore.

A foster child or adopted child. Also used as a verb, as in to hanai a child.

White person, Caucasian; American, English; formerly, any foreigner.

Pregnant; to conceive.

A place of worship or a shrine. Some heiau were elaborately constructed stone platforms, others simple earth terraces.

A creeping grass or weed.

Celebration, festival.

Club, association, society, corporation, company, institution, organization and, in Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary, nine other types of groups, formal and informal.

To pull or tug, as on a rope; to give support, as to a political party.

A trigger fish with a blunt snout like a pig (pua'a).

I Back to Top
Underground oven.

K Back to Top
Priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession.

kalo lo'i
Taro patch.

Baked shredded meat.

Specifically, native-born or host. But in usage, has come to mean anyone who has lived in Hawai'i a long time.

A demigod who could take the shape of a man or a pig.

kanaka maoli
According to Pukui, a full-blooded Hawaiian. But in today's common usage, any person of native Hawaiian ancestry.

Unwoven cloth made from tree bark.

Taboo, prohibition, forbidden. Also used in pidgin as a verb to lay claim, as in "I kapu da big piece."

Doctor, physician, medical.


Algaroba tree. From Peru and first planted in Hawai'i in 1928, it has become very common and useful. The wood from the tree is valued for cooking fires.

A clear place or oasis within a lava bed where there may be vegetation.

A valuable endemic Hawaiian lumber tree used for canoes, surfboards and calabashes. Now more often used for furniture and ukulules. Also used to describe a person as brave, bold, fearless, warrior-like.

Help, aid or assistance.

A duck native to Hawai'i.

Rascal (most common usage), mischievous, naughty, unethical or unprincipled, illegal, fraudulent, destructive.

komo mai
Come in; welcome.

ku=kulu kumuhana
To pool thoughts and prayers to solve common problems.

Teacher, tutor, manual, primer, model, pattern.

Spring season.

Grandparent, ancestor, an older relative or close friend.

L Back to Top
Porch, veranda, balcony.

lau hala
Pandanus leaf usually used for weaving.

Necklace of flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, etc., given as a symbol of affection.

Irrigated terrace, especially for taro.

Good will, good disposition, generosity, grace; kind, humane, gracious, benevolent, benificent, obliging.

Hawaiian feast.

M Back to Top
Thanks, gratitude. To thank.

mahalo nui loa
Thank you very much.

A native vine with shiny fragrant leaves, used for lei and decorations, especially on important occasions. It is a member of the periwinkle family.

Toward the ocean. Used in giving directions.

To die, dead.

Supernatural or divine power; spiritual.

When used as an adjective, usually means "small" or "stingy." The most common noun usage refers to a reef surgeonfish.

ma'o hau hele
Native yellow hibiscus.

Toward the mountains. Used in giving directions.

Legendary race of small people who worked at night, building fish ponds, roads, temples. While industrious, they were also of mischievous nature, and hold a similar place in Hawaiian mythology as leprechauns do in Irish.

Threadfish, which was much esteemed for food. Also a native variety of taro, and a variety of sweet potato.

Moloka'i Hoe
Annual Moloka'i to O'ahu canoe race.

N Back to Top
na= pua no'eau
The skillful, talented or artistic children of Hawai'i.

nahele nani
Beautiful forest.

Soft, sweet, melodious, as music or a gentle voice. Also, softly blowing, gentle-mannered or soft-spoken.

naupaka kahakai
From Pukui: A spreading, succulent shrub found on coasts of tropical Asia and some islands of the Pacific. Flowers are white and may be streaked with purple. The berries are white and about 1.3 cm long, looking like hailstones.

A goose native to Hawai'i, is the state bird.

To be inquisitive, questioning or nosy, often used to describe a "busybody."

no ka 'oi
A phrase used after a noun -- usually a place name -- meaning "is the best."

O Back to Top
Family; blood-related or extended.

A hard wood tree of varying heights and forms that grows abundantly in wet areas. The tree is also called 'ohia lehua or lehua. Lehua is also the flower of the tree.


ono (noun)
The large mackerel-type fish known as wahoo in Florida.

'ono (adjective)
Delicious, tasty.

A saltwater or freshwater fish; a goby.

trash, rubbish, garbage.


P Back to Top
Smooth, unbroken type of lava.




Finished, completed.

pau hana
Work is done.

Volcano goddess.


pipi kaula
Beef jerky.

General name for small mollusks.

In traditional Hawaiian usage, a verb meaning to cut crosswise into pieces, as fish or wood. But through usage, has become a noun meaning any of many varieties of raw fish or other seafood salads.

Correct or proper procedure; goodness, well-being.

Hole. Necklaces made of shells with holes, called puka shells, were popular in the 1970s.

To broil.

A movable couch.


pu=pu= kani oe
Endangered O'ahu native tree snail.

Any kind of protuberance, from a pimple to a hill.

Back to Top
Small, guitarlike musical instrument, chiefly associated with Hawaiian music.

Breadfruit. A tree belonging to the fig family, which is grown for its edible fruits and sometimes for ornament. Also, a round, smooth stone used in Hawaiian games as a bowling ball, bell clapper, die, etc.

Certain species of crevalle, jack or pompano; an important game fish and food item.

W Back to Top

Sea urchin.

chicken skin
Local version of "goose bumps." Sometimes used as an adjective.

Japanese fishcake used in many local dishes.

Food; eat.

loco moco
Favorite local dish consisting of a hamburger patty on a bed of rice, topped with a sunny-side egg and drenched with brown gravy.

A local idiom for Chinese pork cake.

Japanese rice ball.

Slang for Chinese. Derogatory, depending on context.

Slang for Portuguese. Derogatory, depending on context.

Friendly hand gesture with middle fingers curled under, and thumb and pinky extended out. Used to express thanks, aloha.

Japanese for soy sauce.

talking stink
The act of saying negative things about another person, usually behind their back.

uku million, uku pile
Very many.

Pickled plum sometimes found in the middle of musubi.