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11 Jan 2024
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Whether you're prepping for a Hawaiian vacation or you simply enjoy learning about new cultures, dipping a toe into the world of Hawaiian words, language, and slang is a great way to accomplish both. To help you kickstart your learning, we've compiled a list of 12 must-know Hawaiian words and phrases that cover everything from common greetings to island treats.

Rooted in Proto-Austronesian phonetics, Hawaiian is known for having very few consonants, which can make it difficult for non-native speakers. When you add the Creole and English influences that emerged on Hawaii’s plantations, it can be downright intimidating. In this list, we’ve taken the guesswork out of all of that, though, so you’ll be able to confidently use these words and phrases on your next trip to the islands or even at your local poke shop! Check them out below and enjoy incorporating a little piece of Hawaii into your daily life.

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Aloha written in the sand with a flower where the letter o should be

1. Aloha (ah-LOH-hah) – Of course, we’re starting off with the easiest and most common word of all. Aloha is a universal greeting and farewell that also embodies the spirit of Hawaii. Encompassing love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy, it holds a deep spiritual significance to native Hawaiians who use it to describe a sincere felt sense of togetherness.

2. Mahalo (mah-HAH-loh) – A fundamental expression of gratitude, Mahalo means “thank you.” For an even greater thanks, you can say, “mahalo nui loa,” which literally translates to, “Thank you big and wide.”

3. A 'ole pilikia (ah-OH-leh pee-LEE-kee-ah) – a common response to “mahalo,” A 'ole pilikia means you’re welcome, or no problem.

4. Ohana (oh-HAH-nah) – Depending on your age, the Disney company may have taught you this word in the beloved movie Lilo and Stitch. Ohana means family. And while this definition is true, in the Hawaiian culture, it goes a bit deeper. Ohana is all about developing a sense of responsibility and care toward all of mankind and extending our familial love and grace to everyone, whether blood relatives or not.

5. E Komo Mai (eh KOH-moh my) – You may see this phrase hanging in local businesses in Hawaii. Meaning welcome, it’s a popular greeting displayed across the islands.

two small children running on beach

6. Keiki (KAY-kee) – This word is especially helpful if you’re looking for family-friendly events or activities on your vacation to Kauai, as keiki means child or children. If you’re looking for kid’s activities on your trip, keep your eyes peeled for this vocab word.

7. Hoʻomaha (ho-oh-mah-hah) – Meaning to rest or take a break; this is how you can say you’re on vacation when visiting Kauai.

8. Ono grinds (OH-noh GRINDZ) – This is a two-for-one with “ono” meaning tasty or delicious, and “grinds” being a Hawaiian slang word for food, so, together, this phrase means delicious food. With roots in Hawaiian pidgin, a Creole-based language that developed as a way for people who didn’t speak the same language to communicate, this phrase or even just “grinds” is often heard throughout the islands when referring to meals.

9. Kapu (KAH-poo) – This is an important word to know before you travel to Hawaii so you can ensure you don’t accidentally go where you shouldn’t. Meaning forbidden or sacred, it’s often used to denote spaces where visitors should not tread. Loosely, you can interpret it as a “no trespassing” sign. Everything from individual items to entire areas can be designated kapu, so stay alert on your travels and make sure you show respect when you encounter kapu spaces.

10. Mauka (MOW-kah) – Essential for directions, especially if you’re going to rent a car on your Kauai vacation; this word means toward the mountain. Its opposite is “makai,” meaning toward the sea. If you get lost, understanding these words can help make sure you get back on the right track.

couple with backs turned to the camera watching sunset in hawaii

11. A hui hou (ah HOO-ee HOH) - This Hawaiian phrase means "Until we meet again." It's a warm, hopeful way of saying goodbye, implying that the separation is only temporary and that there will be a future meeting. The phrase reflects the Hawaiian culture's emphasis on relationships and connections.

12. A ‘o ia (ah-oy-yah) – There you have it! The perfect end to our list of 12 must-know Hawaiian words and phrases is a ‘o ia, which means: there you have it. More of a cheer than a final stamp, this phrase is the perfect thing to say when someone lands their first wave or braves trying something new. Think of it like, "You've got this!" 

Put Your Vocab to the Test!

living room view of vacation rental in Kauai

Now that you’re armed with these must-know Hawaiian words and phrases, the only thing left to do is practice them! And where better to do that than in beautiful Kauai? So, grab the ohana and say aloha to your dream Hawaiian hoʻomaha. At Suite Paradise, we have vacation rentals to suit every budget and family’s needs. Browse our properties, and when you’re ready, book directly with us for the best rates and service on the island.