Glossary of Hawaiian Words & Terms

Glossary of Hawaiian Words & Terms

How do I pronounce Hawaiian vowels? 
Vowels are pronounced the same way every time.
a makes a short “ah” sound like the a in “above”
e makes an “eh” sound like the e in “let”
i makes an “e” sound like the e in “easy”
o makes a short “oh” sound like the o in “pole”
u makes an “oo” sound like the oo in “moo”

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.

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

Ali’i – Chief, royalty

Aole pilikia – No problem, you’re welcome

Akamai – Smart, intelligent, clever

A hui hou – Goodbye, until we meet again

Ala – Path, trail, road

Aina – Land, homeland

Da Kine – Can be used to reference anything, absolutely anything. 

E komo mai – Welcome (greeting)

Hale – House, home

Hana – Work

Hula – Traditional Hawaiian dance

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

Honu – Hawaiian green sea turtle

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

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

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

Imu – Underground oven, typically used at a luau

Kokua – Mutual assistance, pitching in. You may hear ‘Mahalo for your kokua.’

Keiki – Child(ren)

Kane – Man, male

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

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

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

Kai – The sea, saltwater

Kuleana – One’s personal sense of responsibility, accountability

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

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

Luau – Hawaiian feast

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

Lanai – Balcony, roofed patio, veranda

Makai – Towards the ocean, on the ocean side

Mauka – Towards the mountain, on the mountain side

Moana – Ocean

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

Maikai no au – I am fine

Mahalo – Thank you

Mahalo nui loa – Thank you very much

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

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.

Mana – Spiritual or magical power

Nani – Beautiful, pretty

Ohana – Family

Okole Maluna – Bottoms up! (A toast)

Ono – Delicious (also a type of fish)

Pehea oe – How are you?

Pau – Done, finished

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.)

Pupu – Snacks, appetizers

Poi – Hawaiian dish made from crushed taro root

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.

Pali – Hill

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

Paniolo – Hawaiian cowboy

Pahoehoe – Type of smooth-surface volcanic rock

Shoots – Commonly said amongst friends to mean ok, roger that, or gotcha. 

Wahine – Woman, female

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

Wai – Fresh water