Hawaiian Words You Should Know

Aloha! Your magical Hawaiian vacation can start long before you get to the tropical islands. A great way to prepare for your trip to the beautiful island paradise, familiarize yourself with the culture, and show respect for the people of Hawaii is to learn a few keywords and phrases. Knowing some Hawaiian words will allow you to experience the destination more deeply.

Hawaiian words you should know:

  1. Hello and goodbye – Aloha
  2. Thank you – Mahalo
  3. Yes – ‘Ae
  4. No – A‘ole
  5. How are you? – Howzit?
  6. You’re welcome -‘ A’ ole palikir
  7. Delicious food ‘Ono grinds
  8. Wine – Waina
  9. I love you – Aloha wau iā ‘oe
  10. Coffee – Kope
  11. Ocean – Moana
  12. And many more…

The popular Disney movie Lilo and Stitch popularized many beautiful Hawaiian words. There aren’t many people who don’t know that Ohana means family! Let’s learn some more Hawaiian words to get you ready for your trip to the tropical paradise of Hawaii!

Things To Know About The Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian is an ancient Polynesian language that only became a written language at the start of the 19th century. The ELP (Endangered Languages Project) lists the Hawaiian language as ‘severely endangered’ as there are fewer than 300 native speakers remaining.

There is, however, hope as there has been a resurgence as Hawaiian language revitalization programs have got underway. Hawaiian language immersion schools, online apps, and courses are making this almost lost language more accessible to people throughout the island state.

Learning a few Hawaiian words and phrases before your trip will heighten your experience of the islands and give you a deeper understanding of how the words and culture are intertwined. It is a romantic-sounding language – all Hawaiian words end in a vowel, so it has an almost musical-sounding flow that fits perfectly into the breathtaking island landscape.

How Do You Pronounce Hawaiian Words?

Before we get onto the list of Hawaiian words and phrases you can use on your trip, let’s go through some basic guidelines on how to pronounce words in the Hawaiian language. The language only uses 12 letters of the western alphabet, and the vowels are always pronounced in the same way.

Since many Hawaiian words repeat the same letters, it can look confusing if you aren’t familiar with the language. It can be pretty daunting seeing long words, and you may be tempted to skip them and stick with shorter words – don’t; it’s easier than you think, and all you need to do is to sound out each sound.

There are a few quick rules that will help Hawaiian language novices to make sense of unfamiliar words:

  • Break up long words – As in any language, there are compound words. It is helpful to break long words down into smaller component sound pieces rather than attempting the entire word immediately.
  • Embrace the glottal stop (‘) – You will see this unfamiliar symbol cropping up in the middle of lots of Hawaiian words. Don’t be afraid of it – it will help you. The (‘) character is called the okina in Hawaiian, and it tells you to make a short sound break. So it’s breaking words up for you, which is helpful while you’re learning.
  • Look out for the kahako on some letters (¯) – Some vowels in words may have this bar above them. It is called a kahako, and it lets you know there must be a longer accentuation of that vowel. It is nothing to be afraid of. It is just indicating where the emphasis should be placed.
  • Vowels always make the same sound – Hawaiian isn’t a tricky language, as the vowels make predictable sounds. Let’s go through each vowel’s sound.

A – Makes a short ‘ah’ sound.

E – Sounds like ‘aee.’

I – It is an ‘ee’ sound.

O – This one is straightforward and sounds like ‘oh.’

U – Make an ‘oo’ sound like in moon and spoon.

  • The consonants make the same sound as in English –  The consonants in the language are h, k, m, l, n, p, and w. There are a few ‘w’ exceptions in the sound, which we will look at next. Also, try to make your ‘p,’ and ‘k’ sounds a little softer than they usually are in English.
  • If a W is inside a word, it can sound like a V – This may take a while to perfect, but if a word starts with a W, it makes a ‘w’ sound. If it is inside a word, it becomes a ‘v’ sound. It may seem confusing, but don’t be put off. It’s actually very easy to get the hang of, and you will feel proud of how quickly you catch onto this detail.

That’s all there is to it! Of course, there are plenty of subtle language inflections and finer details, but we will leave those for your next trip to the island. For now, let’s get on and cover some must-know words and phrases you can use during your trip to paradise.

Hawaiian Words That You Should Know

Although you won’t be able to learn the entire language before your visit, some frequently used words and phrases are fun and easy to learn. They will get you into the island spirit before your trip and will be helpful to know during your stay on the islands.

You may also like to learn some polite responses so you can say thank you and greet the people you meet during your visit. While you’re at it, don’t forget to learn the correct way to make the Hawaiian  Shaka hand gesture.

20 Useful Hawaiian Words For Visitors

From the moment you arrive in Hawaii, you will be enveloped by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the setting. You may even have a welcoming ‘lei’ (a garland of flowers) placed around your neck on arrival – and there is your first word!

Some other words that may be useful for visitors to Hawaii to memorize are:

  • Aloha – Hello or goodbye. (a-lo-ha)The inherent meaning of the word is love. You will hear it throughout your visit to Hawaii.
  • Thank you – Mahalo (mah-HAH-loh). If you have mastered this basic form of thank you, you may like to try Mahalo nui loa (mah-ha-loh new-ee loh-ah), which means thank you very much.
  • Yes – ‘Ae
  • No – A’ole
  • How are you? – Howzit (HOW-zit) You can respond to this greeting with the same term. This is a slang term, but it is widely used, and you are likely to hear it during your trip.
  • You’re welcome – ‘ A’ ole palikir (ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah). This is the term you should use when someone says ‘Mahalo’ (thank you) to you.
  • Delicious food – ‘Ono grinds (oh-no grinds) This is a great way to indicate that you are enjoying your meals.
  • Wine – Waina (wy-nah) This one is easy to remember, and don’t forget there are plenty of local Hawaiian-produced wines you can try during your trip.
  • I love you – Aloha wau iā ‘oe (listen here). This is a perfect, romantic phrase to learn if you are visiting Hawaii on your honeymoon!
  • Coffee – Kope
  • Ocean – Moana (moe-ah-nah) This Hawaiian word was popularized by the Disney film of the same name.
  • Bottle of water – ‘Omole Wai. Wai is the word for fresh water, and the ‘Omole is the word for a container like a jug or a bottle. So if you would like a bottle of water, this is the correct term.
  • Children – Keiki (Kay-key) While most places on the island are extremely accommodating of children, you may occasionally see a sign that says ‘no keiki’ at more exclusive clubs or bars.
  • Turtle – Honu (Hoh-noo) The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is indigenous to the island state. The reptiles are not only endangered but a symbol of good luck. You may see a ‘honu’ while snorkeling during your visit.
  • Excuse me –  E kala mai (Eh kah lah mai). This term can be used in the same way as everywhere else in the USA; for example, if you accidentally bump against someone while trying to get the best view to take a photo, you can say E kala mai.
  • Money – Kālā (kah-la) Hawaii is a US state, so the currency is the United States dollar.
  • On the mountain side – Mauka (Mao-kah). Once you reach Hawaii, you may need to explain directions to someone. There are two main ways to go – either towards the mountains (inland) or towards the sea. If you are heading to the sea, use the word Makai (mah-kai)
  • Beach – kahakai. Any visitor to Hawaii will be using this word a lot! There are breathtakingly beautiful beaches everywhere.
  • Bathroom / Toilet – Lua (loo-ah) This is a practical word you may need to remember. It’s a good idea to memorize it.
  • Till we meet again – A hui hou. Once you have visited Hawaii, you will always long to return. It is how you can say your sad goodbyes when you leave at the end of your visit.
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Hawaiian Words On Signs

It’s not only spoken Hawaiian that will be around you during your trip; most signs will also be written in Hawaiian and English. While you are in Hawaii, you are likely to come across the following words on signage:

  • Kapu (kah-poo) – This means forbidden. If you see this word on a gate, it means that it is private property or a sacred site, and you must not trespass. It is essential to know this word if you are backpacking around the islands.
  • Malu No – If you see this sign on a table in a restaurant, it means that the table is reserved for someone.
  • Wahine (vah-HEE-neh) – Female. If you are in a rush to use the bathroom, check the sign on the door that, in your haste, you have chosen the correct restroom!
  • Kāne (kah-neh) – Male. This word is usually displayed on the door of men’s bathrooms.
  • E komo mai (eh ko-mo my) – Welcome and come in. This phrase is often found outside restaurants and stores.
  • Pau Hana – You may see this sign in bars or restaurants. Pau Hana refers to the time when someone is finished work for the day. So you may see it as it relates to specials like you would find for Happy Hour.

What Does The Shaka Hand Gesture Mean In Hawaii?

You will see it everywhere when you visit Hawaii. The distinctive pinky finger and thumb salute that is common on the islands is called the Shaka, and you can start practicing it before your trip as it is a serious part of Hawaiian culture.

The Shaka is a symbol of peace and goodwill. It is simply the friendly aloha spirit of Hawaii conveyed in a hand gesture. The gesture sends a warm message which can mean anything from ‘hang loose’ to ‘take it easy’ and ‘things are great.’

 If someone in Hawaii makes this gesture to you, you can return the gesture. It is almost always accompanied by a broad smile. You may even find yourself using the Shaka long after you return from your island vacation.

Can I Speak English In Hawaii?

Hawaii and Alaska are the only US states with more than one official language besides English. You will therefore be able to speak and be understood by most locals if you speak English in Hawaii.

While it is unlikely that you will master the entire native Hawaiian language before a trip, learning some words is a lovely gesture that will be met with appreciation on the islands. The Hawaiian language is a feast of beautiful words, and knowing a few will stand you in good stead when you visit the islands.


Knowing a few common Hawaiian words and phrases can add a new dimension to your trip to the beautiful island state. The rules of pronunciation are not complicated; with some practice, it is possible to master a few common local words. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated and sure to be met with smiles of appreciation.