A Hawaiian Language Pronunciation Guide
Paying meticulous attention to the presence (or absence) of kahakô and `okina will vastly improve your Hawaiian language mastery, as they have profound influences on word meanings and allow you to sound more like a native speaker and less like a foreigner.



Accent / Stress

Vowels with Kahakô

Pronunciation Resources


Kahakô & `Okina


Common Mispronunciations

W- and Y- Glides

More Practice

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Nâ Hua Palapala Leo Kahi

  • a sounds like [ah] as in above [ah buv ].
  • e sounds like [eh] as in bet [beht ].
  • i sounds like [ee] as in be [bee].
  • o sounds like [oh] as in obey [oh bei ]
  • u sounds like [oo] as in rule [rool].

Hawaiian vowels are pronounced without "off-glides", which are transitional sounds added by the non-native speaker and away from the proper pronunciation, as with a Southern drawl or to "prettify" the language to sound more like English.

Example: haole (white person, non-endemic, Caucasian) is
pronounced [hao' leh],

hao as in the English word "how", a diphthong sound without a nasal twang and
leh with a short "e" sound, as in the English word, "bet".

Haole is NOT pronounced [how' lay].
Haole is NOT pronounced [how' lee].

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Elongated Vowels
Nâ Hua Palapala Leo Kahi me nâ Kahakô

When a vowel has a kahakô (usually a straight line over the vowel, still unavailable on the Internet; for our purposes, a "^" is used as a substitute), it is sounded by emphatically elongating the vowel sound.



As in:




"Ahh! This is heaven."

`âpala (apple)
[AH' pah lah]




`Ê! (Hey!)




`îlio (dog)
[EE' lee (y)oh]



"OH NO!"

`ôpû (belly)
[OH' POO']




Hûi! (Halloo!)
[HOO' (w)ee]

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Nâ Leokanipû

p, k

About as in English but with less aspiration.

h, l, m, n

About as in English.


When it starts a word or after "a", "w"- sound or "v"-sound is acceptable.

wai' ee] or [Ha vai' ee]

Welina! (affectionate greeting)
Veh lee' nah!] or
Weh lee' nah!]


After "i" and "e", usually "v"- sound.

iwi (bone) [ee' vee],
Ewa (city on O`ahu) [eh' vah]


After "u" and "o", usually

kûwili (to spin in a dance)
wee lee]

wô (to roar, bellow)


The `okina is a consonant, which sounds like the break in "Oh-oh, I broke it." It signifies a breath break.

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Na Leo Hui O Nâ Palapala `Elua

Diphthong: [pronounced dip' thong] a vowel sound made up of two vowel sounds pronounced together, such as ou in house, oi in noise.

As a general rule, vowels are pronounced separately EXCEPT when they appear as diphthongs. The first vowel is always stressed, but the two vowels are not as closely joined as in English.

  • "ai" sounds like the "i" in ice.
  • "ae" sounds like I or eye.
  • "ao" sounds like "ow" in how, but without a nasal twang.
  • "au" sounds like the "ou" in house or out, but without a nasal twang.
  • "ei" sounds like "ei" in chow mein or in eight.
  • "eu" has no equivalent in English;
    eu" sounds like "eh-oo", run together, as a single syllable.
  • "iu" sounds like the "ew" in few.
  • "oi" sounds like the "oi" in voice
  • "ou" sounds like the "ow" in bowl.
  • "ui" is an unusual sound for English-speakers, sort of like the "ooey" in gooey, but pronounced as a single syllable.

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W and Y Glides
Nâ Kîkaha W a me Y

These glide sounds are automatically produced with certain vowel combinations. The w- or y-sound can vary, sometimes barely audible and subtle to distinctly pronounced, depending on the word and the speaker:

  • W - glide examples:
    • Maui [ Mau' (w)ee] (an island in the Hawaiian chain)
    • `oe [oh (w)eh' ] (you)
    • Auê [ au (W)EH'! ] (Oh no! Darn! Shucks!)
    • lauoho [lau' (w)oh hoh] (hair)
  • Y- glide examples:
    • ia [ee' (y)ah] (he, she, it)
    • `iâia [ee (Y)AH' (y)ah] (him, her; to him, to her)

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Accent or Stress: Rules of Thumb
Kaulele: Nâ Lula Kumu

I. For all words: Accent syllables with kahakô.

    • Example 1: kahakô [kah hah KOH'] a diacritical mark which indicates the speaker should lengthen the sound of the vowel
    • Example 2: kûpuna [KOO' poo nah] elders, ancestors

II. For words without kahakô: Accent syllables with diphthongs.

    • Example 1: hau`oli [hau' oh lee] (happy)
    • Example 2: umauma [oo mau' mah] (chest)

III. For words without kahakô or diphthongs: Accent the "next-to-last" syllable.

    • Example 1: hale [hah' leh] (house)
    • Example 2: aloha [ah loh' hah] (greetings, love, affection)

IV. For compound words (words made up of two or more words), break up the word into its separate parts and use the "next-to-last" rule-of-thumb:

    • Example 1: ku`uipo [koo' oo (y)ee' poh] = ku`u (my) + ipo (sweetheart)
    • Example 2: holoholo [hoh' loh hoh' loh] (going out, carousing) = holo + holo

Exceptions exist: words containing five syllables without kahakô are stressed on the first and fourth syllables: example: `elemakule (old man) [eh' leh mah koo' leh]. The final stress in a word is usually louder than preceding stress or stresses.

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Pronunciation Resources and Practice

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Aloha a hui hou, Aunty D

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