While English is the official language in Hawaii, two others will be heard while you are here, Hawaiian and the ever-present Pidgin. While you can visit Molokai knowing and using only English, you will acquire a feeling of “belonging” the more you use Hawaiian and Pidgin words and phrases.   This article will provide a simple introduction to both.

The Hawaiian language contains only 13 letters, – five vowels, seven consonants and the ‘okina, which is called a ‘glottal stop’ in English. The okina indicates a break in the sound when the word is spoken, like the break when you say “uh oh” in English. Simple, right?

Here is the Hawaiian alphabet;

A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W,’

Here are the four basic rules,

~ All words end in a vowel.

~ Every consonant is followed by at least one vowel.

~ Every syllable ends in a vowel.

~ Two consonants never appear next to each other.

The okina is only found between two vowels or at the beginning of a word.

The word Lanai (verandah, porch) with no okina would be pronounced ‘Lah-nigh’, with the okina, it is Lana’i (the island 10 miles south of us) and pronounced ‘Lah-nah-ee.’

‘Molokai’ written without the okina, it is pronounced ‘Moh-loh-kai.’
Written with the okina, it reads Moloka’i and is pronounced ‘Moh-loh-kah-ee.’

Either pronunciation is acceptable, but often a missing okina will change the meaning of a word.

Another grammatical mark is the kahako, a symbol that looks like a dash (-) that is placed over a vowel. It means that it is a long vowel – simply drag the vowel out a bit longer.

The vowels are pronounced pretty much as in Spanish,

A = “ah”

E = “eh”

I = “ee”

O = “oh”

U = “oo”

Traditionally, the W in Hawaiian sounds like the letter “V” in English.

Vowels are pronounced separately except when they appear as diphthongs.

‘AI’ sounds like the ‘i’ in ice.

‘AE’ Sounds like I or eye.

‘AO’ like ‘ow’ in how.

‘AU’ like the ‘ou’ in house.

‘EI’ like ‘ei’ as in eight.

‘EU’ like ‘eh-oh’

‘IU’ like ‘ew’ in few.

‘OI’ as in the word voice

‘OU’ sounds like the ‘ow’ as in bowl.

‘UI’ sounds like the ‘ooey’ in gooey.


English speakers learning Hawaiian should remember Hawaiian grammar word order. English sentences are arranged in subject-verb-object order. Hawaiian sentences are arranged verb-subject-object.

Visitor’s Hawaiian Vocabulary

A hui ho’u – See you later
Ae – Yes
Aina – Land
Akamai – Smart, clever
Aloha – Love, compassion, greeting as in hello, good bye, farewell
Aloha Ahiahi – Good evening
Aloha auina la – Good afternoon
Aloha kakahiaka – Good morning
A’ole – No
A’ole pilikia – You’re welcome / No problem
Hale – House
Hana – Work
Hana Hou – Again, encore
Haole – Originally meant foreigner but now accepted to mean Caucasian
Hau’oli La Hanau – Happy Birthday
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou – Happy New Year
Honi – Kiss
Kai – Sea, ocean
Kala mai ia’u – Excuse me
Kalo – Taro
Kama’aina – Child of the land, today also means one who has lived here a long time
Kanaka – Human Being
Kane – Man, Male
Kapu – Forbidden, taboo
Kaukau – Food
Keiki – Child
Kokua – Help, assistance
Kolohe – Rascal
Kumu – Teacher
Kupuna – Grandparent, ancestor
Ku’uipo – Sweetheart
Lanai – Porch, verandah

Lani – Heavenly
Lua – Pit, restroom
Luau – Feast
Mahalo – Thank You
Mahalo nui loa – Thank you very much
Maika’i – Good
Maika’i no au – I am fine
Makai – Toward the ocean
Malihini – Newcomer
Mano – Shark
Manu – Bird
Mauka -Toward the mountain
Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas
Mo’opuna – Grandchild
Mu’umu’u – Loose, flowing dress
Nani – Beautiful
No ka ‘oi – The best
Ohana – Family
Ono – Delicious
Opala – Rubbish, trash
Opu – Stomach
Pali – Cliff
Pau – Finished, done
Pau Hana – Finished work
Pehea ‘oe? – How are you?
Pua – Flower
Pua’a – Pig
Puka – Hole, any hole including parking spaces
Pupu – Hors d’oeuvres
Pupule – Crazy
Slippahs – Flip flops
Tutu – Grandfather, grandmother
Wahine – Woman
Wikiwiki – Hurry, quickly

Basic Pidgin Vocabulary

An den? – and then? So?
Any kine – any kind.
Azright – that’s right.
Bo da dem – both of them.
Braddah – brother.
Brah – friend, buddy.
Brok da mout – tastes delicious.
Bumbye – When we get around to it, after a little while.
Bummahs – bummer, too bad.
Choke – Meaning “a lot of something”, many, a large amount.
Choke Cars – Heavy traffic.
Da Kine – The real thing, a whatchamacallit, “you know what I mean?”
Dat – That.
Dirty Lick’ns – A Spanking.
Eriding – Everything, all of it.
Eh! – You know!
Fadda – Father, Dad.
Fo’ Real? – Are you serious?
Fo’ Shua! – For sure!
Geev’ um – Give it to them, go for it,
Grind – eat.
Grinds – food.
Haad Rub – Having a hard time, Bad time, feeling uncomfortable.
Hawaiian Time – Late.
Ho Brah – Prelude to describing something intense or amazing.
Howzit? – What’s happening? How’s it going?
How you figga? what do you think?
Huli Huli – To flip over and over, rotisserie, also barbecue, like in Huli Huli chicken.

Jalike? – Would you like to (do something)?
Junk – Not good, lousy, rotten.
K den – OK, agreed.
Kaukau – food or chow.
Ladat – Like that.
Lesgo – let’s go.
Like Beef? – You want to fight?
Local Style – Anything typical of the way things are done in Hawaii,
Lolo Buggah – A stupid or crazy guy.
Lua – Bathroom.
Lolo – dummy, stupid.
Mo bettah – much better.
Moke – large local tough guy.
No Ack – Quit showing off.
No can – cannot, not possible.
Ono – tasty.
Onoliscious – very tasty, delicious!
Pau hana – finished work for the day.
Planny – A lot, plenty, plentiful, choke.
Slippah – thongs, slippers.
Stink eye – mean or dirty look.
Talk stink – speaking badly about someone.
Talk story – rap, chew the fat, chat.
Tanks – thanks.
To da max – all the way, most you can get.
Try Move – (Please) move out of the way.
Try Wait – (Please) be patient.
Wat Doing – What the “bleep” do you think you’re doing??
We Go – Let’s get out of here, split.