Want to know some Hawaiian words and phrases before your next trip to Hawaiʻi, but don’t know where to start? Hawaiʻi is a predominantly English-speaking state, but ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language) is actually an official state language!
Before your next trip to Hawaiʻi, it’s a great idea to learn a few key Native Hawaiian words and phrases. To get you started, we’ve compiled 17 Hawaiian Words and Phrases we think are the most useful to know.
If this is your first time learning the Native Hawaiian language, we would strongly recommend you printing the list so you can do a bit of studying on the plane. We would also recommend you practicing the pronunciation as you are most likely to hear and speak these words instead of read them.
All of these Native Hawaiian words and phrases have been hand selected by a fluent, Native Hawaiian speaker and were chosen to best help new language speakers. So if you are just getting started, we've set you up for success!
Mahalo nui loa!
(Maw-haw-loh noo-ee low-ah!)
Thank you very much!
Mahalo means, “thank you”. Mahalo nui loa means, “thank you very much”. You’ll use this phrase everywhere in Hawaiʻi. Itʻs always a great idea to express your gratitude to others.
Hey you! / Hey there!
This is a word that is used to get someone’s attention from far away, especially if you’re not familiar with the person’s name. You’ll probably hear people calling to each other from across the grocery store parking lot or beach by saying, “Hūi!”.
Aloha e <name>.
(Ah-low-hah ey <name>.)
This is a phrase very commonly used to greet one another. For example, you could say, “Aloha e Kimo!” (Hello, Kimo). The word, aloha, literally means “the exchange of breath”. Any time you greeted someone, you were exchanging your breath of life with theirs.
E komo mai.
(Eh kow-mow mah-ee.)
Do come in.
Hawaiians were known for their hospitality. We practice hoʻokipa malihini (welcoming visitors) as a part of our culture. This mentality is adopted by the local culture and the phrase is commonly seen in the windows of retail outlets and on the doormats of many island homes. Use this when a visitor arrives to welcome them into your home.
ʻO wai kou inoa?
(Owe why kow ee-know-ah?)
What is your name?
If you ever come across a fluent Hawaiian speaker, they would introduce themselves, then ask you about yourself. Native Hawaiians (and locals living in Hawaiʻi) really value the act of relationship-building. Because the islands are so small, itʻs important to us to build those relationships and make those connections to help foster a sense of community. Listen for this question or use it to politely ask another Native Hawaiian speaker’s name.
How are you?
Anytime you need to check in on a loved one, or catch up with a long lost friend use the question, “Pehea ʻoe?” Great way to see how someone’s day is going.
I am good.
The word, maikaʻi, means good. This is a way to tell someone that you are okay or good. In conversation, this might look like...
“Pehea ʻoe?” - How are you?
“Maikaʻi au.” - I’m good.
Do it again!
This is a must-know phrase, especially if you are going to see a live performance. In almost every performance that we’ve seen in Hawaiʻi, this phrase is used for the audience to cheer the performer into doing an encore.
E kala mai.
(Ay kaw-lah maw-ee.)
Whether you are trying to scoot by someone in the way (excuse me), or your asking your grandma for forgiveness for eating the last cookie (forgive me), this is a universally-accepted term. Hawaiians had an entire process for forgiveness (kala) and to mend broken bonds (hoʻoponopono).
Use this phrase to tell a friend not to sweat the small stuff, or to tell someone that it is okay. The phrase literally translates to “no problem”.
Done or complete.
The word, “pau”, means “done” or “complete” in Hawaiian. “Hana” means “work”. This phrase is very popularly used to denote the time after work is done—especially happy hour at the local bar. Ex: “Let’s go grab some food when you’re pau hana.” (Let’s go grab some food when you’re done working.)
Mauka / makai
(Mah-oo-kah / mah-kah-ee)
Inland / oceanside
If you ask anyone in Hawaiʻi for directions, chances are they will not immediately pull out a phone, but instead give you play-by-play driving directions using these words. These are used to positionally indicate where something is. If it is “mauka” of something, it is uphill or on the mountainside; if it is “makai” it is oceanside. Ex: “The gas station is makai of the museum.” (The gas station is on the oceanside of the museum.)
ʻĀ ʻo ia!
(Aw oy yah!)
There you go!
This is a common word of encouragement within the Hawaiian community. Whether it is a baby’s first wobbly steps, or someone getting a job promotion, the community would use this phase to say, “go for it!”, or “great job!”
Appetizer / snack
Pūpū is also the word for shell, but in most social contexts, it is used to describe an appetizer. You’ll frequently hear snacks, starters or appetizers being referenced in this way, and sometimes even see the word in a restaurant menu!
E ʻai kākou!
E ʻai kākou! (Ay aw-ee kah-kow!)
Let us eat!
As Hawaiʻi became a melting pot of Pacific ocean cultures, the variety of delicious foods in the islands grew. This is a way to signal to your family and friends that it is time to eat!
There’s no better way to compliment a Hawaiian chef on their cooking than by using this phrase. The word ʻono means “delicious” in the Hawaiian language.
A very simple and useful way to express agreement or acceptance.
Oh dear! Oh no!
Auwē or auē (pronounced the same way) is a very popular way to emphatically throw your hands up in the air in surprise or worry. It is also heavily used when a naughty keiki (child) is throwing a fit.
A hui hou!
(Aw hoo-ee hoe-oo!)
Until we meet again!
Instead of parting ways, the Hawaiian language optimistically wishes a loved one or friend well until the next time that they meet by saying, “A hui hou!”. Remember, “a hui hou” doesn’t mean goodbye, but spreads good wishes until the next time people meet.
Want to learn the Native Hawaiian language?
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The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) is one of the oldest living languages in the world. Today, Native Hawaiian is taught in Hawaiian language immersion schools, at the University of Hawaii, and in a variety of community organizing groups.
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About the Author
🌺 Aloha! ʻO Kaipo koʻu inoa. I am the founder of Maoli! As a kanaka maoli who grew up in Kaʻaʻawa on the North Shore of Oʻahu, I wanted to create a brand for Native Hawaiian people and cultural allies that positively and accurately showcases who we are indigenous people. Because, if I do say so myself, we are pretty great. Maoli is a 100% indigenously owned small business. Mahalo nui for your support.