Everyday Hawaiian Words and Phrases

Maui is a wonderful island to visit. It is exotic, tropical, and easy going. For people coming from Mainland USA, visiting the islands is an amazing opportunity to experience and learn about another culture without the confusion of learning another language or trying to make heads or tails of an entirely foreign alphabet. Many languages are spoken in Hawaii.

The two “official” languages, if we can call it that, are Hawaiian and English, we will also share a little bit of information on Pidgin, an unofficial, yet prevalent language. While you do not need to speak Hawaiian to enjoy your time here, becoming familiar with a few common Hawaiian words and phrases will only add to your understanding of the beautiful culture and way of life on Hawaii.

In the Hawaiian language a word may have several meanings or a single Hawaiian word could be used to convey a complex feeling or emotion depending on the surrounding context. Understanding a few Hawaiian words will make your time in the islands more enjoyable.

The Hawaiian alphabet, aka piapa, has 12 letters.
Five Vowels (A,E,I,O U) and Seven Consonants (H,K,L,M,N,P W).
The ‘Okina (‘) can be counted as the 13th letter, it marks a sound break, sounds like the break in airflow when in English saying uh-oh.

a sounds like ah as in aloha
e sounds like ay or eh as in say
i sounds like ee as in bee
o sounds like oh as in open
u sounds like oo as in boo.

Hawaiʻi – (Hu-VAI-ee),  technically (Ha-va-ee-ee), people also pronounce Hawaiʻi Ha-wah-ee and we all know what they are talking about.
That’s all I am going to say about this, do what makes you happy.

E Komo Mai – welcome

Aloha – (a-lo-ha) – hello, goodbye, love, kindness, mercy, compassion.

Mahalo – (mah-hah-lo) – thank you. Could also be used to convey admiration or esteem.

Mālama pono – take care of yourself, this is a way to say good-bye.

A’ ole palikia – (ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah) – you’re welcome/ No problem.

A hui hou – (ah-hoo-wee-ho-oo-uu) – until we meet again.

Hale – house or home.

Haleakalā – house of the sun. While on Maui be sure to visit Haleakalā National Park. If you would like to take in the sunrise from the summit Haleakala on Maui be sure to make a reservation as early as two months in advance. The park can only accomodate a limited number of vehicles.

Kōkua – (koh-koo-ah) – to help, give aid or assistance. Kōkua is a concept relating to pitching in, extending help to others for their benefit and not for your own personal gain. Kokua shows a spirit of generosity, self-sacrifice even. Hawaiian culture places a high value on cooperation and consideration as a necessity for maintaining the health of the community.

Ohana – family. Also refers to a (small) guest house.

Keiki – children or child.

Auntie and Uncle – What children (keiki) are taught to call elders whether actually related or not.

Menehune – mythological dwarf people of Hawaiian tradition known for building temples (heiau), roads, houses, canoes, and fishponds. You will see signs at construction sights or where road repairs are being done. Menehune at work.

Wiki – fast. you may see the wiki wiki bus at the Honolulu airport. From my experience it is only somewhat wiki, however..

Haole – Traditionally it meant foreigner, today it means white people and may or may not be derogative.

Pau Hana – end of workday.

Pau – finished, done.

Aina – Land. you may encounter the saying Respect the Aina on a bumper sticker or on another highly visible surface.

Kamaʻāina – Child of the land or nowadays it is used to mean Local. Locals with proper identification may receive kamaʻāina discounts.

Kapu – Keep out/ forbidden – Kindly honor the Kapu signs and honor the warning not to not go beyond that point.

Pono – Right or righteous, proper moral, fair.

Makai – (mah-kah ee or mah-kigh) – towards the ocean, you may come across this when getting directions. The Makai side of the road.

Mauka – (mow-kah) – towards the Mountain, when following directions the Mauka side would mean the side of the road towards the mountain, opposite the ocean.

Pali – Hill or cliffs. The lava is flowing down the Pali towards the ocean.

Pupu – Appetizer.

Poke – (POH-keh) – poke seafood bowl with seasonings.

Ono – can mean either delicious or the “Wahoo” fish

Honu – (hoe-new) – Green sea turtle

Wahine – lady or women. Ladies you will want to remember this one when you need the restroom or toilets.

Kane – man. This will be on the door to your restroom, very important.

Vog – Volcanic Smog the blows over from the Big Island. Vog can produce allergy symptoms.

Shaka – A friendly hand gesture, with the pinkie finger and thumb extended while the three middle fingers curl in. Sometime called the “Hangloose,” symbolizes the “aloha spirit” as a way to express thanks, gratitude, friendship and understanding. You will see this in traffic when you let someone go ahead of you.

HAWAIIAN PIDGIN – Other words that may be encountered come from the Hawaiian Pidgin language,  a mix of languages and local slang spoken in Hawaiʻi.

Although Hawaiian and English are the official languages of Hawaii, there is a third language of Hawaii as mentioned above, it is spoken in everyday communication among many locals. This language provides  inspiration for bumper stickers, t-shirts, and advertising.

Pidgin is so common that many visitors catch on to what is being said and have fun incorporating pidgin into their vocabulary. Who knew a few new vocabulary words would be such a fun little souvenir to take home?


‘Ono grindz – (oh-no grinds) – Delicious food.

Howzit? – (how-zit) – How are you?

Brah \ Braddah – pidgin derivative for the literal word Brother. But usually used for the word friend (male), Example “Howzit Brah.”

Da kine – The word you use when you don’t know the word. Whatchamacallit. We can do an entire blog post the Da kine. Maybe we will. But for now it is the word used when you don’t come up with the needed word.

Broke da Mouth (mouth will sound like, mouf or mout) – That’s delicious.


This concludes today’s blog sharing common words and phrases heard in Hawaii. This list could continue and on another day it probably will. If you enjoyed reading this blog, like us on facebook and tell your friends about us. We are here to support those businesses doing good things for the island and the people living here. Aloha