Moving To Hawaii

50+ Helpful Hawaiian Terms for Visitors & New Residents

Whether you’re planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands or you’ve recently moved here, you may be wondering if there are common Hawaiian words and phrases you should learn to recognize. After all, this is the only state with two official languages!

First, it may help to know that the Hawaiian alphabet contains only seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, and W), plus all the vowels we’re used to in English. A good rule of thumb for pronouncing the vowels is that they sound just like they do in Spanish: A is /ah/, E is /eh/, I is /ee/, O is /oh/, and U is /oo/.

If you see Hawaiian in writing, you might also notice two diacritical marks: the kahakō (or macron) and the `okina (or glottal stop).

  • The mark over the “O” in kahakō is a kahakō, and it tells us what part(s) of a word to stress.
  • The mark at the beginning of `okina is an `okina, and it signals a brief pause. For instance, the `okina in O`ahu tells us there should be a tiny break between the first two vowels, similar to the break between the two words in “uh oh.”

The addition or subtraction of an `okina or a kahakō can actually change the meaning of a word! Here’s a fun example:

  • Pau (no diacritical marks) means finished
  • Pa`u (with an `okina) refers to soot or ink
  • Pa`ū (with an `okina and a kahakō) means moist or damp
  • And a pā`ū (with an `okina and two kahakō) is a type of women’s skirt

With that background in mind, here’s some of the vocabulary you might be most likely to encounter in Hawai`i.

Aloha: used as both a hello and a goodbye; also refers to love, affection, and kindness
E komo mai: welcome
Mahalo: thank you
A hui hou: until next time

People-Related Terms
Kāne: man
Wahine: woman
Keiki: child
Kupuna: elder
`Ohana: family
Ali`i: chief, noble, or royalty
Kama`āina: native-born/of the land
Haole: Caucasian
Hapa: of mixed ancestry
Hui: club or group

Words for Natural Surroundings
`Āina: land
Wai: fresh water
Kai: the sea
Makai: toward the sea
Mauka: inland/toward the mountains

Gathering/Celebration Terms
Pau hana: literally meaning “finished work,” it’s the Hawaiian equivalent of happy hour
Lū`au: feast or celebration
`Ono: delicious
Mele: song
Hula: the traditional Hawaiian form of dance
Hana hou: meaning “do it again,” it’s used as a synonym for “encore!”
Hau`oli lā hānau: happy birthday
Mele Kalikimaka: Merry Christmas

Hawaiian Values
Kuleana: responsibility
Mālama: to care for, protect, preserve
Pono: righteousness, upright goodness, balance

Other Words You Might Hear
Hale: house
Lanai: deck or patio
Puka: a hole, opening, or door
Holo holo: to go for a drive
Kapu: forbidden/keep out
Kolohe: mischievous
Akamai: smart/clever
Nui: great, large, or much

Fun Slang
Grinds: food
Pupus: appetizers
Kau kau: a meal/to eat
Broke da mout: delicious
Slippahs: flip flops
Small kine: just a little
Da kine: a term that can mean anything from “the best” (for example, “That’s da kine breakfast!”), to “that thing,” to “that person whose name I can’t remember”

Now that you know some basics of `ōlelo Hawai`i, give it a try! The language is just one of many things that make our island home so unique and beautiful.

As always, I’m here to answer any questions you may have about life in Hawai`i. Contact me: Leslie Mackenzie Smith, REALTOR(S), RS-42147

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