Hawaiian Language Basics and Common Words

Hawaii is the only state of the United States to have its own language. It recognizes both English and the Hawaiian language as official state languages. Discover the basics of the Hawaiian language and common words and phrases, as well as some Hawaiian history and trivia.

hawaiian language alohahawaiian language aloha

Common Hawaiian Basics and Words

You may know hula and aloha, but how many more Hawaiian words and meanings do you know? Try out these expressions the next time you’re on the Big Island or out for a surf on Kauai.

Conversational Phrases

You’ll probably make some new friends on your next visit to Hawaii. So what are some Hawaiian sayings that you can use in conversation? Learn how to greet them politely, encourage them, and thank them for their help with these phrases:

Hawaiian Word

English Translation

Pronunciation

ʻae

yes

sh-ey

a hui hou

until we meet again

ah-hoo-ee ho-oo-uu

aloha

hello/goodbye

ah-loh-ha

aloha au Ia ʻoe

I love you

ah-loh-ha ow lah-oh-oh-ney

a ‘o ia

there you go (encouragement)

ah-ooh-ee-yah

ʻaʻole

no

ah-oh-oh-ley

ʻaʻole au maopopo

I don’t know

ah-oh-oh-ley ah ma-oh-poh-poh

‘a’ ole palikia

no problem

ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-ya

e kala mai iaʻu

sorry

eh kah-lah my ee-yah-oh-uu

e ʻoluʻolu

please

Eh oh-loo oh-loo

mahalo

thank you

mah-ha-loh

noʻu ka hauʻoli

you’re welcome

no-ooh kah ha-ooh oh-lee

Pehea ʻoe? 

How are you?

Peh-hey-yah oi?

pela paha

maybe

pey-lah pah-hah

Hawaiian Words for Animals

There are many beautiful animals in Hawaii – too many to add here! For a quick starter guide, check out these Hawaiian words for animals you may see on the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaiian Word

English Translation

Pronunciation

ʻanuʻu

spider

ah-new-oh-ooh

honu

sea turtle

ho-new

i’a

fish

ee-ah

ilio

dog

ee-lee-oh

kohola

whale

ko-ho-lah

lalani

rabbit

lah-lah-nee

manna

shark

mah-nah

manu

bird

mah-new

moa

chicken

moh-ah

nahesa

snake

nah-heh-sah

neneʻau kai

sea gull

ney-ney-ah-ow kye

ʻopu

cat

oh-oh-poo

pepeke

insect

peh-peh-key

Hawaiian Words for Food and Drink

If you want to order ʻaina awakea at the hale ʻaina, you may need to check over these Hawaiian food and drink words. Once you’ve mastered meals and food basics, you’re ready to enjoy the incredible Hawaiian cuisine!

Hawaiian Word

English Translation

Pronunciation

ʻaina awakea

lunch

ah-aye-nah ah-way-kee-ah

ʻaina ahiahi

dinner

ah-aye-nah ah-hee-ah-hye

ʻaina kakahiaka

breakfast

ah-aye-nah kah-kah-hee-ah-kah

hale ʻaina

restaurant

hah-ley ah-aye-nah

mea inu

drink

may-ah ee-new

mea ‘ono

dessert

may-ah oh-oh-no

pa’ina

meal

pah-ah-ee-nah

wai

water

why

waiu

milk

why-ooh

waina

wine

why-nah

Features of the Hawaiian Language

Now that you know some words and phrases in Hawaiian, take a moment to learn about the language itself. Here are some grammar and syntax rules for the Hawaiian language, many of which also apply to Pidgin Hawaiian, which is a common blend of Hawaiian and English in Hawaii.

kauai beach in hawaiikauai beach in hawaii

Hawaiian Consonants

Hawaiian is a vowel-oriented language that uses only eight consonant phonemes. These sounds, listed in IPA, are the following: 

  • [m]

  • [n]

  • [p]

  • [k]

  • [h]

  • [l]

  • [w]

  • [‘]

The [‘] sound is the glottal stop, called the 'okina. It resembles an English apostrophe in print, and it sounds like the Cockney English pronunciation of the middle consonants in the word "bottle." The word Hawaii in Hawaiian has an 'okina between the two i’s. (Hawai’i).

Hawaiian Vowels

All Hawaiian words end in vowels. Even though there are only five vowel letters in the language, they are used in complex ways that create a wide variety of sounds. There are nine short vowel diphthongs in Hawaiian, which are:

  • ae

  • ai

  • ao

  • au

  • ei

  • eu

  • oi

  • ou

  • iu

These diphthongs start with the first vowel sound and end with the second sound. There are also five long vowel diphthongs in Hawaiian:

  • ae

  • ai

  • ao

  • au

  • ei

  • ou

Unlike the short vowel diphthongs, these long vowel sounds are falling. They transition from high to low sonority. Depending on how quickly the speaker is talking, some diphthongs may sound like others. 

Syntax

Hawaiian is a verb-subject-object language. Unlike English, which uses a subject-verb-object syntax, Hawaiian lists the action first, then the performer, and then the object. A Hawaiian sentence sometimes puts the emphatic word at the beginning to make a point.

The only exception relates to sentences that are in the negative mood. An example would be a sentence like "She won't study." In this case, Hawaiian uses the same subject-verb language order that English uses (subject-verb-object). 

Noun Usage

In many ways, the Hawaiian language is more straightforward in English. Nouns do not change their form in the Hawaiian language to express numbers like they do in English. Instead, the article performs this function.

hawaiian mountains on kauaihawaiian mountains on kauai

Facts About the Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language is a member of the Austronesian family of languages. It closely resembles other Polynesian languages like Tahitian, Maori, and Samoan. A small population of native Hawaiian residents still speak Hawaiian, and many Hawaiian children learn the language in Hawaiian language immersion schools. Streets, villages, schools, government buildings, restaurants, and parks are commonly named with Hawaiian words.

Other Online Resources

If you're interested in learning more about the Hawaiian language, YourDictionary recommends visiting the following helpful resources:

  • Hawaiian Dictionaries - YourDictionary’s Hawaiian dictionary 

  • Wehewehe - a Hawaiian language dictionary hosted by Ulukau, the Hawaiian electronic library

  • Aloha Hawaii - language Web site geared for the traveler with important information about the Hawaiian language that every visitor should know

  • Kualono - The Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo hosts this Web site with the intention of encouraging the continued expansion of the Hawaiian language. Information can be found here about efforts to support the use of Hawaiian in business, education, government, and other social contexts.

Hawaiian and English

Learning more about the Hawaiian language is a fulfilling experience, and can enhance a visit to one of the more beautiful places on Earth. But Hawaiian has influenced English as well! Check out this article that describes many English words influenced by the Hawaiian language.

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