Hawaiian Language Pronunciation:
A List of Common Mispronunciations


Whether kama`âina (Hawai`i-born; acculturated) or malihini (newcomer, visitor), all can strive to be respectful of the Hawaiian language by making a conscious, concerted effect to spell and say Hawai`i's place names and words correctly.

Most of us may not achieve the lofty and intended goal of fluid bilingualism within our lifetimes; yet, every one of us can immediately improve (or correct) our usage of this beautiful language.

Many of us have spent lifetimes saying familiar places wrongly; don't feel badly! The Hawaiian language with its diacritical marks, essential for correct pronunciation, were denied us. We had no way of knowing any better. Now we do.

Kûlia i ka nu`u.
Let us strive toward the summit.

Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H.,
Hawaiian Dictionary, Revised and Enlarged Edition, University Of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.
Pukui, M.K., Elbert, S.H., & Mookini, E.T.,
Place Names of Hawai`i, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1974.
Pronunciation Guide

Ka`Ôlelo Hawai`i
Hawaiian Language

Ka Puana Pololei *

Ka Puana Pololei `Ole Mispronunciation


A city, heiau on O`ahu, west of Honolulu. Only city name in the U.S. spelled with vowels only.

It was named for the Nothocestrum tree.

[ai' (y)eh (y)ah]

Distinctly sound out the diphthong "ai", then y-glide the next two vowels.

Syllables with diphthongs are accented / stressed.


Often mispronounced by dropping the diphthong sound and adding `okina that are not there.

Ala Moana

Boulevard, shopping center, and beach park, Honolulu, O`ahu.

Ala means "path, road, trail" and Moana means "(open) ocean".

Ala Moana Boulevard is a redundant name: road + ocean + boulevard.

[ah' lah moh (w)ah' nah]

Pronunciation basics:

* Hawaiian syllables end in vowels.
* Consonants do not cluster next to each other.
* "mo" is not pronounced like the name Moe.


Recently "slaughtered" (grossly mispronounced) as shown above on a TV commercial. Perhaps an attempt to "prettify"? Hawaiian words are beautiful in their own right. If you think so too, then e `olu `olu (please) e-mail:
info@alamoana.com and let those kind folks know what you think.




[ah loh' hah]

Accent/ Stress Rule-of-Thumb: if there are no syllables with kahakô or diphthongs (blended vowels), accent the "next-to-last" syllable of the word.

Alouha [ah lou' hah]
Resist adding the "ou" diphthong.

alôhâ [ah LOH' HAH']
alohâ [ah loh HAH']
Common mispronunications at at tourist lû`au.

aloa [ah loh (w)ah]
Resist dropping the "h" sound.


Beautiful East Maui district and town, accessed by a long, windy road. Birthplace of Queen Ka`ahumanu.

It means "alert", something you must be to navigate all those road turns to get there.

[HAH' nah]

The first syllable has a kahakô; elongate its sound. The elongation automatically accents this syllable.

Hana [hah' nah]
Commonly mispronounced this way by locals. It does not mean hana (labor).

Hannah [han' nah] This place is not named after a woman's name of Biblical origin.


O`ahu beach and underwater park, bay, and marine conservation district.

It means "curved bay or hand-wrestling bay".

[hah nau' mah]

"nau" is a diphthonged (blended vowels) syllable.

Diphthonged syllables are accented.

[hah nah oo' mah]
Common mispronunciation by locals.

Hannah-Uma is not a Hawaiian place name. This place is neither named for Hannah, nor Uma (Thurman), the actress.


From the dictionary: White person OR any foreigner (of non-Hawai`i origin); foreign, introduced, as plants and animals.

No derogatory connotation is implied when used for neutral, identification purposes. Locals consider "Caucasian" to be a stilted term, less friendly than haole. Hawai`i born, acculturated haole call themselves "local haole".

[hao' leh]

A syllable with a diphthong is accented.

Such syllables override the "next-to-last" syllable of a word.



how-lee [how'-lee]
Le is pronounced "leh", not "lee".

ha`ole [hah oh' leh]
No `okina in the word.

how-lay [how'-lay]
Avoid twanging (nasalizing) the first syllable. Avoid diphthonging the second syllable with the "y" sound in lay or pay.


The state, the sovereign nation, and the largest island in the Hawaiian chain, also referred to as the Big Island; Hawai`i also refers to a Hawaiian person.

Correct spelling : Hawai`i .

Wrong spelling: Hawaii

[hah wai' ee]
[hah vai' ee]

The w- sound and the v- sounds are equally acceptable.

Observe the `okina (i.e., take a breath break in your voice, like "Oh-oh" in English).

Hawa`i [hah wah' ee]
Commonly mispronounced this way by locals.

Hawaiia [how wai' (y)ah]
To the person who persists with [how wai' yah], answer back "Fine", in reply to his/her variant of "How are you?"


A Hawaiian place of worship; temple. Respect these sacred areas. See, learn, appreciate, but do not touch or desecrate.

[hei' (y)au' ]

This word is composed of two diphthonged syllables. Pronounce and stress each diphthong, with the y-glide between them..

heao [heh (y)ao']

The first diphthong is often insufficiently sounded out, and the second incorrectly sounded as "ao".

Hôkû (Awards)

Nickname for the Nâ Hôkû Hanohano (the glorious stars) Awards, which are Hawaiian equivalents of the Grammies.

They honor Hawai`i music contributors. Hôkû means "star".


Both syllables have kahakô.

Elongate their sounds. They are equally accented.

Accenting a syllable with a kahakô overrides those with diphthongs, which in turn overide the "second-to-last" syllable.

hoku [hoh' koo]
Hoku, without kahakô, means "night of the full moon".

haku [hah' koo]
Haku means "guardian".

Hoke-coo is not a Hawaiian word.


A picturesque town on the Hâmâkua coast of the Big Island, en route to the beautiful Waipi`o Valley. A compound word, hono means "bay" and ka`a means "rolling (as stones)".

[hoh' noh + kah' ah]

This is a compound word (made up of more than one word); each word's "second-to-last" syllable is accented/stressed.

[hoh noh KAH']

Oft mis-pronounced with three syllables instead of four, thus changing the meaning to "smacked bay".


City and county on O`ahu, also a landing in Puna, on the island of Hawai`i.

Hono means "bay" and lulu means "protected".

[hoh' noh + loo' loo]

A compound word; each word's "second-to-last" syllable is accented/stressed.

[hah' nah loo loo]
Ho is pronounced "hoh", not "hah".

Gently bring to the mispronouncer's attention that Hannah-Lulu are two non-Hawaiian names.


An O`ahu village and beach park in the Wai-Kâne and Kahana area. Ka means "the" and `a`awa means "wrasse fish".

[kah + ah ah' vah]

Observe the `okina, take breath breaks between the "a"s.

Kâwa [KAH' vah], which is meaningless.

This word is a good example of how meaning is voided without an `okina.


Wife of King Kamehameha I. Let us honor our ali`i (royalty) by spelling and pronouncing their names correctly.

Her name is a compound word, meaning "the bird (feather) cloak", as ka (the), manu (bird (feather) ) ahu (cloak).

[kah + ah' hoo + mah' noo]

Observe the `okina, take a breath break.

No kahakô, no diphthongs. This is a compound word. Follow the "next-to-last" rule for accenting.

[KAH' hoo mun noo]

Would we disrespect the memory of the late Princess Diana by referring to her as Princess Dina?

May we show respect to Hawai`i's royalty by not altering their names, willy-nilly (any kine way)?


A Maui resort area.

This is a compound word: Kâ`ana means "division" and pali means cliff.

[KAH' ah nah + pah' lee]

A syllable with a kahakô is accented, supeceding the "next-to-last" syllable rule.

[KAH' nah pah lee]
Often mispronounced with four syllables instead of the necessary five.

Canna-pal-lee is not a Hawaiian place name.


A village, bay and surfing area in Kona, Hawai`i and a town and fishpond on O`ahu, perhaps named by fishermen who dove here for fish.

Kaha means "place" and lu`u means "diving".

[kah' hah +
' oo]

Like Makapu`u and Nâpô`opo`o, observe the `okina; take a break breath.

[kah hah LOO'],

Eliminating the `okina and turning the last syllable into one with kahakô alters the meaning to "squander place".

Changing the spelling (and thus the meaning) of the home of proud Los Angelenos to Lost Angeles would be insensitive, disrespectful and not tolerated.


An island with an area of 45 miles, desecrated (as a bombing target) by the U.S. Navy.

Reclaimed, reconsecrated and now being rehabilitated, the island has come to symbolize the struggle for sovereignty and better stewardship of the land. Ka means "the", ho`o means "to" and lawe means "carry away (by currents)."

[kah + hoh' oh +
lah' veh]

Observe the `okina; take a breath break. Do it as you would say, "Oh-oh!"

[kah HOH' lah veh]

As with Makapu`u, Kahalu`u, and Nâpô`opo`o, avoid the temptation of shortening words.

Would Amerca or Canda be acceptable spelling or pronunciation?


Town, bay, port and surfing area on Maui. Probably means "the winning."

[kah + hoo lui']

The last syllable is diphthonged; it is accented as it overrides the "second-to-last" syllable.



Hotel and avenue in Waikîkî, O`ahu. The name of one of the most beautiful of the Hawaiian princesses, heir to the throne, who died tragically young.

Her name means "the royal sacred height"; ka means "the", `iu means "sacred height" and lani means "royal".

[kah + iu' +
lah nee]

The "iu" diphthong sounds like the "ew" in the word "few". It is pronounced as one syllable.

The "iu" sound is not [ee (y)oo].

Keep practicing; it'll come.

Kailani [kai lani]

Kailani means "heavenly sea". A beautiful, albeit mistaken meaning, which ali`i would take exception.

Would Queen Elizabeth wish to be called Queen Elibeth by those who are unfamiliar with the "za" sound?


Avenue and parkway in Waikîkî, named for King Kalâkaua (1836-91).

His name means "the day (of) battle"; ka means "the", means "day" and kaua means "battle".

[kah LAH' kau (w)ah]

Accent the syllable with the kahakô, which supersedes a diphthong.

Sound out the diphthong "au" and y-glide the last syllable.

[kah' lah kah' wah]



O`ahu highway, hotel and beach park named for Prince Jonah Kûhiô Kalaniana`ole (1871-1922), delegate to Congress and father of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

His name means "the royal chief without measure", as ka means "the", lani means "royal", ana means "measure" and "`ole" means without.

[kah + lah' nee +
(y)ah' nah +
oh' leh]

Easiest way to deal with long names is to break them down into words:

ka - lani - ana - ole

then syllables:
kah + lah nee + ah nah + ole.

Apply the "next-to-last" rule.


Go Back to Basics:

Hawaiian syllables always end with vowels.

Accent is on the "second-to-last " syllable of each word of a compound word.

Use y- or w-glides between two vowel sounds, when there is no `okina separating them.


Site of Hansen's Disease (formerly called leprosy) settlement on Moloka`i.

It means "the flat plain", as ka means "the", lau means "plain" and papa means "flat".

[kah + lau' pah pah]

Clearly sound the diphthonged syllable, "lau".

It is accented/stressed, overriding the "next-to-last" syllable.

[kah' lah pah' pah]


The schools and highway around O`ahu named for King Kamehameha I (1758?-1819).

His name means "the lonely one," as ka means "the" and mehameha means "lonely".

[kah + meh' hah meh' hah]

Clearly sound out the "h" sounds.

[kah meh' (y)ah meh' (y) ah]

Never: Kam. Kam is a Chinese word. The Kamehameha Schools are not Chinese schools, but schools for Hawaiian-blooded students.

Queen Elizabeth … Queen Liz?


City, harbor, bay, Marine Air Corps station on O`ahu.

Kâne means "man" and `ohe means "bamboo." According to one account, a woman compared her husband's cruelty to the cutting edge of a bamboo knife.

[KAH' neh + oh' heh]

Elongate the tfirst syllable; it has a kahakô.

[kah' neh oh' heh]

`Eha ka pepeiao (Sore da ear) !

To the local, hearing it pronounced thusly is comparable to the sound of scraping fingernails across a chalkboard.


Honolulu park, hotel, community college, boulevard and maternity hospital; elementary school in Hilo. Named for Queen Kapi`olani, wife of King Kalâkaua. Her name means "the arch (of) heaven" (rainbows signified the presence of royalty). Her motto was: Kûlia i ka nu`u. Strive for the summit.

[kah pee' oh lah' nee]

Every syllable ends with a vowel.

Observe that `okina; take a breath break between the "i" and the "o".

[kah pee' (y)oh lah' nee]

Auî! Sowah da ee-yah. (Pidgin for: Ouch! The ear hurts!)

Gently correct anyone who is committing this travesty to the Hawaiian language and this caring, visionary Queen.


A Big Island district known for its desert, heiau, green sand beach, taro bread and sweet oranges.

[kah OO' ]

Distinctly elongate the second syllable.

[kah' oo]



Northernmost of the major Hawaiian islands.

[kau' (w)ah ee]

Sound out the diphthong "au", w-glide the second syllable, and observe the `okina.

[kah wai']

Tour books with their word lists try, but don't succeed.


An historical Congregational church in Honolulu, begun in 1837 by New England missionaries, meaning "the water (used) by Ha`o".

[kah + wai' + (y)ah + hah' oh]

Sound out the diphthong "ai", y-glide the third syllable, and observe the `okina.

[ka wai hau]

Another misguided attempt by a tourist publication.


A Big Island village in the Puna district, en route to the Volcanoes National Park.

[keh (y)ah au' ]

[keh (y)au']


A major Honolulu thoroughfare.

Probably named for a governor of Maui, who bore the same name as his father, an ally and father-in-law of Kamehameha I.

[keh eh (y)au' moh koo]

Observe the `okina, Y-glide the diphthong "au" and accent the third syllable, using the "next-to-last" rule of thumb.

[keh (y)ah moh' koo]

Close but no kîkâ (cigar).


A lagoon and beach park east of the Honolulu International Airport. It means "tread upon".

[keh eh' hee]

Observe the `okina; accent the "second-to-last" syllable.

[keh' hee]


A state park and stream in the Waimea district of Kaua`i. It means "to bend" or "to wind".

[KOH' keh eh]

Elongate the first syllable, observe the `okina.

[koh KEH]


A bay in Hilo; Hotel, beach park, avenue, and housing, named for Prince Jonah Kûhiô Kalaniana`ole (see above).

[KOO' hee OH']

Elongate both syllables with kahakô.

[koo hee' (y)oh]


This means grandparent, ancestor, relative or close friend of the grandparent's generation.

Kûpuna serve as a source of wisdom and moral standards.

[koo poo' nah]


Plural form is kûpuna
[KOO' poo nah]

[kah poon' nah]
[koop poo' nah]

*Every syllable ends with a vowel.
*No two consonants are next to each other. (an exception = Kristo)


Town, point and site of Brigham Young University, Hawai`i on O`ahu and the Polynesian Cultural Center.

It means the " `ie leaf" (`ie vines were used to weave baskets).

[LAH' + ee (y)eh]

Elongate the first syllable, observe the `okina on the second syllable, and y-glide the last syllable.

[lah (y)ee' eh]

[lai' eh]


A mountain and sea resort island, where pineapples were once king, but no longer. means "day" and na`i means "conquest"; thus, "day (of) conquest".

[LAH' + nah ee]

Elongate the first syllable, and observe the `okina.

Lanai [lah nai']

Avoid shortening this three-syllable word into two syllables.

San Franciscans also dislike having their city name shortened …to Frisco.


Highway on O`ahu. Named for Princess Miriam Likelike (1851-1887), the younger sister of King Kalâkaua and Queen Lili`uokalani.

[lee' keh lee' keh]

It does not rhyme with Bike-bike.


Last reigning royalty of Hawai`i (1838-1917). Hilo park and Honolulu state building are named after her. Her name means "smarting of the high-born one". At the time of her birth, her foster mother's aunt, Kîna`u, was suffering from eye pain, and hence the name.

[lee lee' oo + (w)oh + kah + lah' nee]

[lee lee oh kah lah nee]

This is not a Hawaiian name.


City on Kaua`i. It means "cold chill".

[LEE' hue]

Elongate the first syllable and the diphthong is "hue", not "hui".

[lee-HOO'- wee]

[lee hui]


Boat harbor, bay, and reef on the Maui isthmus. Perhaps a contraction of Maka`alaea (ocherous earth beginning).

[MAH' ah lae' (y)ah]

[mah lae' (y)ah]


A vine with fragrant, glossy leaves which is used for lei-making.

[mai' leh]

[mai' lee]

Commonly mispronounced; gently correct mispronunciations.


Town, beach park and surfing area on O`ahu, meaning "pebbly".

[MAH' ee lee]

Elongate the first syllable with the kahakô and observe the `okina.

[mai' lee]


Famous surfing area, resort, valley and beach on O`ahu; in ancient days, famous for robberies. It means "fierce". Namesake of the Mâkaha Sons of Ni`ihau, one of Hawai`i's foremost singing groups.

[MAH' kah hah]

Elongate the first syllable; it has a kahakô]

[mah kah' hah]


Beach park, point, surfing area on O`ahu, meaning "bulging eye". Maka means "eye" and pu`u means "bulging".

[mah kah + poo' oo]

[mah kah POO']


Valley, stream and site of the University of Hawai`i, Mânoa.

It means "vast".

[MAH noh (w)ah]

Elongate the first syllable with the kahakô.

[mah noh' ah]

Manoa, without a kahakô, changes the meaning to "numerous".

Mauna Loa 

Active volcano, second highest mountain in Hawai`i, and probably the largest single mountain mass on earth, rising 13,677 feet above sea level and 29,000 feet above its base on the sea floor. Means "long mountain"; mauna means "mountain" and loa means "long".

[mau' nah
loh' (w)ah]

Distinctly pronounce the "au" diphthong of Mauna. W-glide the second syllable of Loa.

Mana Loa
[mah' nah loh (w)ah]

Mauna Kea 

Highest mountain in Hawai`i (13,796 feet). Means "white mountain"; mauna means "mountain" and kea means "white".

[mau' nah
keh' (y)ah]

Distinctly pronounce the "au" diphthong of Mauna. Y-glide the second syllable of Kea.

Mana Kia
[mah' nah kee' (y)ah]


Valley, golf course, and park on O`ahu. Lua means "two" and moana means "encampments".

[moh (w)ah nah + loo' (w)ah]

[mau' nah loo' (w)ah}



Town in Honolulu, makai (seaward) of the University of Hawai`i, Mânoa. Means "pebble lizard", as refers to "lizard" and `ili`ili means "pebble".

[MOH' + ee' lee ee' lee]

Elongate the first vowel, observe the `okina.

Moilili [moi' lee lee]

A good example of the importance of diacritical marks to arrive at the correct pronunciations.


Hawaiian long dress, loosely fitting.

[moo' oo moo' oo]

[moo' moo]




ni`u [nee' oo]
nîu [NEE' (y)oo}


O`ahu avenue, valley, park, pali (cliff) and suburb. Means "cool height".

[noo' oo + (w)ah' noo]

[NOO' ah noo]


Most populated island of the Hawaiian Islands, but physically not the largest.

[oh ah' hoo]

Observe that important `okina and don't w-glide the second syllable.

[oh (w)ah' hoo]


A Big Island village in the Puna district. Means "dagger". Home of the Pahoa School Daggers.

[PAH' hoh (w)ah]

[pah hoh' (w)ah]


Avenue, valley and homesteads in Honolulu, O`ahu. Namesake of the Hawaiian music group, Pâlolo. It means "clay".

[PAH' loh loh]

[pah loh' loh]


burnt to a crisp, overdone, parched

[PAH' pah ah]

[pah PAH']


Name of a fragrant white flower, often used for leis. It means "peacock". So named after Princess Ka`iulani's beloved peacocks.

[PEE' kah keh]

Elongate the first syllable.

pikake [pi kah' keh] pikaki [pee kah' kee]
Commonly mispronounced with the accent on the middle syllable.


Resort area on Kaua`i. It means "completely overcast" or "crashing (as waves)."

[poh ee POO']

Observe the `okina and elongate the last syllable.

[poi POO']

[poi' poo]


Marinated raw fish, a delicacy

This word's common mispronunciation is perhaps the most grating to Hawaiian speakers and poke connoisseurs and aficionados.

[poh' keh]

Look at the second syllable. It is ke; it is pronounced "keh", not "kee".

[poh' kee]
Name of Kamehameha I's pet dog (Poki is transliterated from the English "boss"). If you don't say this word correctly, you may be ordering dog for an appetizer. J

This is not a Hawaiian word.


Village, heiau, black sand beach in Ka`û, Hawai`i. Puna means "spring" and lu`u means "diving".

[poo nah loo' oo]

[poo nah LOO']


Town, bay, and beach park in northwest O`ahu.

[wai' ah loo' (w)ah]

[wai loo' (w)ah]

Wailua is a town on Kaua`i.


Famous O`ahu beach, hotels; wai means "water" and kîkî means "spouting".

[wai + KEE' KEE']

Clearly elongate the second and third syllables.

[wai kee KEE']
Most of us locals have been mispronouncing this Hawaiian word all of our lives. It is never to late to begin to say it correctly.


City, reservoir, fishing area in central O`ahu. It means "place of noise" (rough seas are said to be heard here). 

[wah hee + (y)ah WAH']

[wah hee WAH' ]

 * There are variations of what is considered correct or accepted pronununciations, depending on the speaker and place of origin. The mispronunciations cited above are definitely Incorrect.

The above selections came off the top of my head. If you know of other Hawaiian words being maimed or unwittingly abused, please e-mail me. I welcome any additions, subtractions, modifications or corrections to this webpage.
Mahalo! (said without a kahakô)


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