Don’t Say These Hawaiian Words and Phrases on Your Next Trip to Hawai’i

Whenever I tell someone I’m from Hawai’i, it never fails – they respond with “I love Hawaii!” or “I really want to go there!” Every once in a while someone will ask if I speak Hawaiian and while I don’t, we were taught Hawaiian growing up and it’s everywhere so it’s hard not to pick up some words.

I read this article from Travel and Leisure entitled, 18 basic Hawaiian words and Phrases for Your Trip to the Aloha State and I cringed at some of the descriptions on how to pronounce the words and how to use them in a sentence. I was also confused because it said 18 but I wrote this post and only came out to 15 words / phrases? Let me just disclaimer that I am not a native Hawaiian and I’m not attacking the author of this article in anyway, but I just wanted to give my perspective as a former kama’aina (local Hawai’i person) and how we used these phrases in everyday conversation.



I posted screenshots of the actual article with my numbered commentary below, so hopefully it’s not too confusing to follow.

1. – 4. aloha kakahiaka, aloha awakea, aloha ‘auinalā, and aloha ahiahi

This pronunciation of all four of these looks right, I remember learning these in elementary school. (W’s are sometimes pronounced as v’s in the Hawaiian language.) However, besides aloha kakahiaka, I’ve never heard anyone use this in regular conversation. You might hear it in touristy areas or shows, but I don’t ever remember saying these to my friends.


5. lū‘au

This one, I’m kind of not sure how you’re supposed to say loo-ah-oo because lū‘au sounds more like lou-ow. Also I don’t know what is all this talk about taro leaves is about because a lū‘au is basically a Hawaiian party or feast.


6. mahalo

This one is for the most part correct, even the bit about tourists thinking it means garbage. But nui is pronounced more like new-ee but I guess I can see how you could phonetically get noo? Idk looks more like noooooo to me.


7/8. wahine, kane

These are also right.




The Common Hawaiian phrases section is definitely the part that I was like whaaaa because I don’t remember hearing or using half these a lot.

9. ‘a’ole pilikia

Pronunciation looks right and you would use this if someone says ‘thank you’ because I think it means no problem, but I didn’t ever use this phrase.


10. a ‘o ia

Honestly I don’t know what is happening here. I tried to figure out what phrase this is supposed to be but I have no clue. Don’t say this.


11. hui

Unless you’re trying to call your Filipino friends and say hoyy, I wouldn’t try to call anyone like this in Hawai’i especially if you’re a tourist.


12. e kala mai

This one looks right, but you could just say excuse me.




Useful Hawaiian sayings for travelers

This part is kind of useful, people will use mauka and makai for reference on direction, but the pronunciations looked kind of weird to me. Like why are they broken up like ma uka and ma kai, they should be one word.

13. mauka

Mauka is pronounced more like mow-kah. The way I learned it, it means more mountainside. Don’t say, “We’ll be mauka today doing the zipline.” Nobody would say that.


14. makai

I feel like if you say mah-kie-yee it sounds more like you’re trying to say maika’i which means something different so I’d just drop that ‘yee’ and say mah-kie. Makai means oceanside. Also dont’ say “at the boathouse makai.” Nobody says that either.


15. a hui hou

The meaning is right, “until we meet again”, but again the pronunciation. Idk what’s all this extra stuff on the end, but ah-hoo-wee-ho would suffice.




Again, I’m not a Hawaiian expert, I could be wrong about some of this (local friends correct me if I am!) I think it’s great that people want to learn about Hawaiian culture, but you don’t want to go to Hawai’i and have the locals look at you funny when attempt to use these words. 😉

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