Basic Hawaiian Language Lessons
N Ha`awina o Ka `Ike Kumu o Ka `lelo Hawai`i 

~ Aunty D:  ||
Basic Hawaiian Language Workshop at the The Southern California `Ukulele Festival 

There is only a limited amount of knowledge that one can impart at a workshop. The following lessons are presented with extended learning aids, including links to enhance and further your Hawaiian language learning experience:

I.  Greetings :: N Aloha:

Aloha! Phonetic pronunciation:

Correct: [ah loh' hah]
Incorrect: [ah LOH' hah!]  
[ah low hah!] [ah LOH HAH'!]

Translation into English:

alo = presence
h = (Divine) breath
More than a greeting, it is a blessing.

Aloha kkou!  [ah loh' hah KAH' kou!]   Aloha to all of us! 
(More than two of us)
Aloha kua!  [ah loh' hah KAH oo-(w)ah!] Aloha to you and me!  (Two of us)
Aloha e (Inoa)! [ah loh' hah-(y)eh (Inoa)!] Aloha to (Name)
Hi  [HOO'-(w)ee!] Halloo! Yoo hoo!
Aloha hui hou! [ah loh' hah-AH hoo'-(w)ee hou!] Aloha until (we) meet again.

To further your learning:
  More Hawaiian greetings - The Meaning of Aloha - The Aloha Spirit
  More Hawaiian greetings and sentiments


II.  A Brief History ::  He Mo`olelo Pkole

Origins: ? - Marquesas / Tahiti ---> Hawai`i. Post contact: Hawaiian population was decimated from 1,000,000 to 40,000. Missionaries from New England converted Hawaiian into a written language. Hawaiians soon became the most literate in the world; at one time, up to 90% of the Hawaiian population read and wrote their once oral-only language.  

Over time, English usage dominated and the Hawaiian language receded;  25 years ago, the number of native Hawaiian speakers was down to ~2000. Like the nn, the endangered Hawaiian goose, the Hawaiian language was on the brink of extinction. Pidgin (a.k.a. Hawai`i Creole English), an amalgam of Hawaiian, English, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Portuguese words, among others, has helped to preserve its words, as well as its grammatical and intonation patterns. In the 1980's, the Hawaiian language (a.k.a. ka `lelo Hawai`i) was revived with the Hawaiian Renaissance

Today, there are more than 10,000 speakers and the number is growing. Hawaiian and English are now the two official languages of Hawai`i. 

`O Ka `Ōlelo Ke Ka`ā; O Ka Mauli"
"Language is the fiber that binds us to our cultural identity"

We honor our kpuna by heeding them: "If you kill the language, you kill the culture."   Keep the culture alive by learning Hawaiian.  It is never too late.

E ola mau ka `lelo Hawai`i!  
[eh-(y)oh lah mau kah OH leh loh hah vai ee!"
May the Hawaiian language live on! 

To enhance your learning:
  Why Learn Hawaiian? 20 Pono Reasons
  He Kono - An Invitation to Give Back to Hawai`i, Hawaiian Culture, and Aloha


III.  Hawaiian Words of Wisdom ::  Ka `lelo No`eau:  On learning

Nn ka maka
Ho`olohe ka pepeiao
Pa`a ka waha
[NAH' NAH'  kah  mah' kah]
[hoh oh loh' heh  kah peh pei-(y)ao']
[pah' ah  kah  vah' hah]

Observe with the eyes
Listen with the ears
Shut the mouth

Thus one learns.

To further your learning:
  N `lelo No`eau:  Hawaiian Words of Wisdom / Proverbs
  Hawaiian Proverbs and Wise Sayings for Seniors

IV.  Hawaiian Alphabet :: Ka P`p Hawai`i: 

The Hawaiian alphabet uses 12 Roman letters ( a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w), five (5) Roman letters (a, e, i, o, u) with a diacritical mark called a kahak, and a diacritical mark called `okina.

Number of letters in the Hawaiian alphabet:  10 vowels +  8 consonants = 18 letters.  Here's the breakdown:

10 Hawaiian Vowels:     

5 vowels:
     a  e  i  o  u  
     [pronounced: ah eh ee oh oo] 

5 vowels with kahak: 
     [pronounced with elongated sounds: AH EH  EE OH OO]

What's a kahak

(kaha = mark) +  ( k = elongate).

It is a diacritical mark that is a horizontal line over a vowel to signify elongation of its sound.  Instead of one beat of sound, give it two.   In English, this mark is called the macron.

Because           are recognized as vowels in addition to a  e  i  o  u, there are ten (10) vowels in the Hawaiian language.


8 Hawaiian Consonants:   

     h,  k,  l,  m,  n,  p,  w,  ` 
[pronounced: heh, peh, keh, lah, moo, noo, peh, veh, `oh kee nah]

What's an `okina

(`oki = cut) +  na (a suffix that makes a word a noun).

It is a diacritical mark that looks like " a tiny  "6" with the hole filled in." Known in English as a "glottal stop," it signifies a break in the breath, as in "oh-oh." 

Because `okina is recognized as a consonant, in and of its self, there are eight (8) consonants in the Hawaiian language.

Thus, there are 18 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, and NOT the frequently erroneously reported 12 letters.  

Here is a graphic that depicts the exact representations of the kahak and the `okina:

Graphic, courtesy of The Royal Hawaiian Band

Unfortunately, to date, the Internet does not support the faithful rendering of these diacritical marks, although efforts to rectify this situation are underway. The closest renderings of the diacritical marks necessary for the proper pronunciation, spelling, and comprehension of Hawaiian words employ the caret (^)  to represent the kahak and the backward quote mark (`) to represent the `okina, as used on this page. 

Diacritical marks are important to pronunciation. Use them where they are required. You CAN make them on your word-processor.  Here's how.

To further your learning:
  Ka P`p Hawai`i ::  The Hawaiian Alphabet
Why is Hawaii spelled Hawai`i?
  A List of Common Mispronunciations of Hawaiian Words
Common Mispronunciations of Hawaiian Place Names 

V.  Colors & Numbers :: N Waiho`olu`u & N Huahelu:

Learn to sing the "color song":

`Ula`ula, melemele, poni, pol, `ele`ele

Phonetic pronunciation:
ooh' lah ooh' lah, meh' leh meh' leh, poh' nee, poh LOO', eh' leh eh' leh]

, yellow, purple, blue, black

`Alani, `kala, ke`oke`o, `hinahina, `ma`oma`o

Phonetic pronunciation:
ah lah' nee, AH kah' lah, keh' oh keh' oh, AH hee nah hee' nah, OH' mah' oh mah'  oh]
Translation: Orange, pink, white, gray, green

Further your learning:
  Colors :: N Waiho`olu`u
  More on Colors

Learn to count in Hawaiian:

0 =`ole, 1= ho`okahi, 2 = `elua, 3 = `ekolu, 4 = `eh, 5 = `elima, 6 = `eono, 7 = `ehiku, 8 = `ewalu, 9 = `eiwa, 10 = `umi

Phonetic pronunciation:
[oh' leh, hoh oh kah' hee, eh loo-(w)ah, eh koh' loo, eh HAH', eh lee' mah, eh-(w)oh noh, eh hee' koo, eh vah loo, ei' vah, oo' mee]

Further your learning:
Numbers :: N Huahelu
  More on Numbers


VI.  Pronunciation :: Ka Hopuna: 

Uncorrected, gross mispronunciations go mainstream and become virtually impossible to correct.  Check out these gross mispronunciations of common Japanese words by English speakers:

Words:                         karaoke                ||  sake           ||   karate 
Mispronunciations:        "carry oh' key"       ||  "sack' kee"  ||  "kah rah' tee" 
Actual pronunciation:     [ kah rah' oh keh]   ||  [sah keh]    ||  [kah rah teh']   

Learn to pronounce the words correctly.  Hawaiian is too beautiful for it to be trashed with mispronunciations which distort and obscure the intended meanings.

Rules of Thumb:

  • All letters are sounded.  There are NO silent letters in Hawaiian.

  • Vowels are sounded separately EXCEPT when two vowels are next to each other and the sound is then blended as diphthongs.  

  • Stress the "next-to-the-last" sound. Sounds with kahak and diphthongs are stressed.

"The Nuts and Bolts" of Pronunciating Hawaiian Words:

Diphthong [dip' thong] = a blended sound from two vowels in a row, as in "ou" in house or "oi" in noise.  In Hawaiian the two vowels are not so tightly joined as in English and BOTH must be "completely executed." The first vowel of the blended pair is stressed more. 

Diphthongs: Sounds like: Examples:
ai "i" in ice Kai = Sea water
ae I or eye Mae`ole = Never-fading
ao "ow" in how
but without a nasal twang
Maoli = True
Kaona = Hidden Meaning
au "ou" in house or out
but without a nasal twang
Au = I, I am
ei  "ei" in chow mein or in eight Lei = Garland
eu "eh leh-(y)oo'"   `Eleu = Lively
iu "ee-(y)oo"
similar to "ew" in few
Wkiu = Topmost
oe oh-(w)eh `Oe = You
oi  "oi" in voice Poi = Hawaiian staple 
ou "ow" in bowl Kou = Your
ui "oo-(w)ee" in gooey Hui = Together, team, chorus


  • "W" sounds like "V" or "W" when it starts a word or follows "a".  
    Examples: Welina! [weh lee' nah] or [veh lee' nah] = Greeting;  
    Hawai`i  [hah wai' ee] or [hah vai' ee]

  • "W" sounds like "V" when it follows "e" or "i. ".   Mnemonic:"Vei"
    Examples: iwi [ee' vee] = bone;  `Ewa [eh' vah]

  • "W" sounds like "W" when it follows "o" or "u."  Mnemonic: "Wou"
    Examples:  ww [WOH WOH] = roar; kwili [KOO wee' lee] = spin

Y-Glides and W-Glides:
These glide sounds are automatically produced with certain vowel combinations. Hawaiian is not spoken in staccato fashion. When two vowels are next to each other (in the same word and with adjacent words), smooth out the sounds with these glides.  

W-glides: Y-glides:
Maui [ Mau'-(w)ee]  `O ia [oi'-(y)ah] : he, she, it; he is, she is, it is
`oe [oh-(w)eh' ] : you `iia [ee-(Y)AH'-(y)ah] :  to him, to her
Au [ au-(W)EH'! ] : Oh no! Darn!  heiau [hei'-(y)au'] : place of worship, rock shrine
lauoho [lau-(w)oh' hoh] : hair E Hawai`i Aloha
[eh hah vai' ee-(y)ah loh' hah-(Y)EH]

  Practice saying the eight major Hawaiian islands correctly: 

      Ni`ihau, Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i, Lna`i, Kaho`olawe, Maui, Hawai`i.  

      Pronounced: [nee ee hau'], [kau-(w)ah' ee], oh ah' hoo], [moh loh kah' ee], [LAH' nah ee], 
      [kah hoh oh lah' veh], [mau'-(w)ee], [hah vai' ee] or [hah wai' ee].  

    Honolulu is pronounced [hoh noh loo' loo].

  Practice singing this beloved Hawaiian song: HAWAI`I ALOHA.  


VII:  Simple Sentences ::  Adjective + Noun/Pronoun Pattern

As with the Spanish language, the adjective (word that describes) come before the noun (the subject).  But first, here are some words to help you begin to speak in a sentence.

Pronouns / Proper noun:  
au  [ Mau'- (w)ee] : I, I am kua [KAH-oo-(w)ah : we, as in "you and I"
kkou [KAH' kou] : we, as in "all of us"
`oe [oh- (w)eh' ] : you, you are `olua [oh loo-(w)ah : you, as in "you two"
`oukou [ou kou']  : you, as in "all of you"
`o ia [oi'-(y)ah ] : he or she or it, he or she or it is lua [LAH' kou] : they, as in "two of them" place of worship, rock shrine
[LAH' kou] : they, as in "all of them" place of worship, rock shrine
`o ("So-and-so") : "So-and-so" is Example:  Ploli `o Pila. : Bill is hungry.
maika`i [mai kah' ee] : good
kolohe [koh loh' heh] : naughty, rascal
`ino [ee' noh] : bad, evil

`eleu [eh leh-(y)oo] : energetic, lively
mluhiluhi [MAH' loo hee loo hee] : tired

mlie [MAH' lee-(y)eh] : calm
huh [hoo HOO'] : angry, ticked off
anuanu [ah' noo-(w) ah' noo] : cold
wela [veh' lah]  : hot

mahana [mah hah' nah] : warm
`olu`olu [oh' loo oh' loo] : comfortably cool, pleasant

ola [oh' lah] : healthy
ma`i [mah' ee] : sick
nui [noo-(w)ee] : big
li`ili`i [lee' ee lee' ee] : little

ikaika [ee kai' kah] : strong
nwaliwali [NAH vah lee vah lee] : weak
ploli [POH' loh lee] :  hungry
m`ona [MAH' oh nah] : full (with food)

makewai  [mah keh vai'] : thirsty
kena [keh' nah] : quenched
nani [nah' nee] : pretty
nohea [noh heh-(y)ah] : handsome
pupuka [poo poo' kah] : ugly

hau`oli [hau oh' lee] : happy
kaumaha [kau mah' hah] : sad

hoihoi [hoi' hoi'] : interesting
manak [mah nah KAH'] : bored, uninteresting
akamai [ah kah mai'] : smart
hp  [HOO' POH'] : stupid

pono [poh' noh] : proper, righteous, balanced
pupule [poo poo' leh] : crazy, insane

onaona [oh nao' nah] ; fragrant
hauna [hau' nah] : smelly, stinky
* A very useful word:  `ole [oh' leh] : not

Put `ole after the adjective to negate it: 

maika`i `ole : not good
`ino `ole : not evil

pa`ahana [pah ah hah' nah] : industrious, busy
molo [moh loh-(W)AH]  : lazy

miki`oi  [mee kee oi']  : neat, precise
kpulu [KAH' poo loo] : careless, slovenly

 Using the sentence pattern of adjective + noun/pronoun:

Ploli au I am hungry.
Nani `oe.  You are beautiful.
Maika`i  `o ia.  He/She is good.
Makewai `o Pila.  Pila is thirsty.

Molo `ole lkou.  They are not lazy.


VII:  Commonly used Hawaiian words and expressions:

Hawaiian Word List

pela paha
[ah oh' leh]
[peh lah pah' hah]
aikne [ai KAH' neh] friend; friendly; to become a friend
`ina [ai' nah] land; overall environment
[ah koo'-(w)ah] [ee-(y)eh' soo]  [krees' toh] God, usually referred to as Ke Akua
ali`i [ah lee' ee] chiefly class; royalty
Aloha au i `oe. [ah loh' hah vau-(y)ee YAH' oh-(w)eh] I love you.
`A`ole pilikia. [ah oh'  leh  pee lee keh' (y)ah] No trouble.  You're welcome.
`au`au [au au] to bathe
Au! [au-(W)EH'!] Oh no!  Alas! Oops!
n `aumkua
[au mah koo'-(w)ah]
[NAH au MAH koo-(w)ah
guardian spirit, ancestor
guardian spirits, ancestors
E kala mai. [eh kah' lah mai] Excuse me.  Forgive me.
E mlama pono. [eh MAH lah' mah poh' noh] Take care.
E `olu`olu. [eh oh' loo oh' loo] Please.
E komo mai! [eh koh' moh mai!] Welcome! Literally, Come In!
Haina i mai ana ka puana [hah-(y)ee' nah-(y)ee-(Y)AH' mai-(y)ah' nah kah poo-(w)ah' nah] "To tell the refrain." Sung at the end of most traditional Hawaiian songs.
hale [hah' leh] house, home, building
hlau [HAH' lau] hula school; originally, canoe house
Hana hou! [hah' nah hou!] Encore!  Do it again!
hnai [HAH' nai] adopted, Hawaiian style
haole [hao' leh] Caucasian
hapa [hah' pah] part, usually refers to mixed ethnicities
hpai [HAH' pai] pregnant; to carry
n haumna
[hau mah' nah]
[NAH hau MAH' nah]
hauna [hau' nah] smelly, stinky
Hau`oli L Hnau! [hau oh' lee LAH HAH nau!] Happy Birthday!
Hiki n!
[hee' kee!]
[hee' kee NOH'!]
Can do! Sure! All right! Okay!
(Hiki with more emphasis)
Hau`oli Makahiki Hou! [hau oh' lee mah kah hee' kee hou !] Happy New Year!
H! [HOH!] Wow!
h`ike [HOH' ee keh] to show, exhibit; exhibition
ho`olaule`a [hoh oh lau leh' ah] celebration
Ho`omaika`i! [hoh oh mai kah' ee!] Congratulations!
hula `auana [hoo' lah au-(w)ah' nah] modern hula
hula kahiko [hoo' lah kah hee' koh] ancient hula
huli [hoo' lee] turn, reverse; to turn over
`lio [EE lee'-(y)oh] dog

ke keiki : the child
n keiki : the children













The word "the" is far more frequently used in Hawaiian than in English. Abstract words are preceded by "the", as in, ke Aloha.

Rules of Thumb:
Use ka for words that begin with a, e, o, k, and `okina.  

Use ke for all other letters.

Use n to pluralize, ahead of the noun. Do not add a "s" to pluralize Hawaiian words. Correct: one lei, two lei, four lei...

ka`a [kah' ah] car
kl [KAH' LAH'] money
kama`ina [kah mah AI' nah] native, native-born, Hawai`i born.
kanaka maoli [kah nah' kah mao' lee] indigenous person; any descendant of those persons who lived in Hawai`i prior to 1778
kne [KAH' neh] man, male, husband, Mr.
Kanikapila! [kah nee kah pee' lah!] kani = sound, ka = the, pila = stringed instrument. Figuratively, "Let's play music!"
kaona [kau' nah] hidden/deeper meaning of songs
kapu [kah' poo] taboo, secret, off limits, don't touch!
that (nearby)
that (over there)
n keiki
keiki o ka `ina 
[kei' kee]
[NAH kei' kee]
[kei' kee oh kah AI' nah]
children of the land, island-born
k h`alu [KEE HOH' ah loo] slack key guitar
kk [KEE'  KAH] guitar
kkua [KOH' koo-(w)ah] help, aid, assistance
kona [koh' nah] leeward; hot winds that blow from the lee side against the trades
kukui [koo kui'] candlenut tree; its nuts are used for lei
Kulikuli! [koo' lee koo' lee!] Hush! Quiet! (Hmau! is more polite)
kumu [koo' moo] teacher
n kpuna
[koo poo' nah]
[NAH KOO poo nah]
ku`u ipo [koo' oo-(w)ee' poh] my sweetheart
Lawa! [lah' vah] Enough!
Le`a le`a! [eh leh' ah leh' ah !] Have fun!
lnai [LAH' nai] porch, veranda, patio
lani [lah' nee] heaven; heavenly; sky; spiritual
lauhala [lau hah' lah] leaves from the hala (pandanus) tree, used for weaving






pit or hole that has a bottom.

Colloquial term for toilet.
The proper words that mean bathroom is lumi ho`opaupilikia, which literally means "room to end your trouble").
l`au [LOO'  au] Hawaiian feast
mahalo [mah hah' loh] thank you
mh [MAH' HOO'] gay person
mkaukau [MAH' kau kau] ready
make [mah' keh] dead
makuahine [mah koo-(w)ah hee' neh] mother
makuakne [mah koo-(w)ah KAH' neh] father
makule [mah koo' leh] old, of people; aged; elderly
malihini [mah lee hee' nee] newcomer to Hawai`i, tourist, visitor
malo [mah' loh] loincloth
mana [mah' nah] spiritual power
manu [mah' noo] bird
ma uka 
ma kai
[mau' kah]
[mah kai']
toward the mountains
toward the sea
mele [meh' leh] song
Mele Kalikimaka! [meh' leh kah lee kee mah' kah!] Merry Christmas!
menehune [meh neh hoo' neh] industrious, diminutive  indigenous  people  of yore
moemoe [moe moe'] to cause to lie down; to hush or put to sleep
molo [moh loh-(W)AH'] lazy
momona [moh moh' nah] sweet, as in fruit
mu`umu`u [moo' oo moo' oo] Hawaiian-style dress
nele [NEE'-(y)eh leh] nosey, inquisitive
nui [noo'-(w)ee] big; lots
 `ohana [oh hah' nah] family


[OH koh' leh]


anus, specifically the orifice (opening); derriere
`Elemu is more polite.
oli [oh' lee] chant
 `ono [oh' noh] delicious
`p [OH' POO] stomach, belly
 `O wai kou inoa? [oh vai kou-(w)ee noh'-(w)ah?] What's your name?
 `O  Name ko`u inoa. [oh Name koh' oo-(w)ee noh-(w)ah. Name is my name.
pakall [pah kah LOH' LOH] marijuana, "pot," "grass"
Pk [PAH' KEH] Chinese
pali [pah' lee] cliff; precipice
paniolo [pah nee-(y) oh' loh] Hawaiian cowboy
papa [pah' pah] class
ppale [PAH' pah leh] hat, cap, head covering
pau [pau] done, finished
pau hana [pau hah' nah] finish work; "work is done"
Pehea `oe?
Maika`i n.
A `o `oe?
[peh heh-(y)ah oe?]
[mai kah' ee NOH]
[ah oh oe?]
How are you?
Very well.
And you?
piko [pee' koh] navel, umbilical cord, genitals; summit
poi [poi] Hawaiian staple from pounded cooked taro (kalo) root, forming a paste
poke [poh' keh] Appetizer made of cubed raw fish in a marinade of kukui nut-sea salt relish with chili peppers and seaweed (limu)
Pmaikai! [POH' mai kah' ee] Good luck!  Best wishes! Blessings!
ppoki [POH'  poh kee] cat
pua [poo'-(w)ah flower
puka [poo' kah] hole, as in puka shells
pule [poo' leh] pray, prayer
pp [POO' POO'] hors d`oeuvre, finger food, appetizer; sea/land shells
Ts!  /   Cha!   /  K! [TSA!]  /  [cha!]  /  [kah!] Darn!  Drat! Shucks!  Oh no!
tt [TOO' TOO] Grandma; affectionate term for old people--relatives or friends--of the grandparent generation
`uku [oo' koo] Head louse; flea
`ukulele [oo koo leh' leh] `uku= flea + lele = jumping
Literally, "jumping flea"

It is NOT spelled `iukuleili !

wahine [wah hee' neh] woman, female, wife, Mrs.
Wikiwiki! [wee' kee wee' kee] Hurry up! Quickly! To hurry up, very quick.

Further your learning:
The Hawaiian Language Web Site - Speak Hawaiian Like a Local ;-)
Links to Hawaiian Language Classes
Kamehameha Schools: Distance Learning: Kuliwi Streaming Videos
University-level Online Hawaiian Language Classes  - University of Hawai`i at Hilo:  HAW 101 Online

Aloha hui hou!

See you at the 2nd Annual Southern California `Ukulele Festival 
Saturday, October 18, 2003.

Mark your calendar.
Check the  SoCal Ukefest Site 
or Da' Hawai`i Club's Upcoming Events Page for updates.

The End 

2002 Aunty D

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The following misspells are included here for search engine recognition purposes only:  Hawaii, Hawai'i, nene, ka olelo hawaii, ka 'olelo hawai'i, ka piapa, ka piapa hawaii, ka piapa hawai'i,  The closest renderings of the diacritical marks necessary for the proper pronunciation, spelling and comprehension of Hawaiian words employ the caret (^)  to represent the kahak and the backward quote mark (`) to represent the `okina, as used on this page. Unfortunately, to date, the Internet does not support the faithful rendering of diacritical marks, although efforts to rectify this situation are underway.