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14 Hawaiian phrases to learn before you go

Recently updated on April 5th, 2024 at 11:01 pm


Hawaii is one of the world’s most beautiful and exotic destinations, known for its unbelievable beaches and luxury resorts. But even more attractive than its postcard views is its culture, and iconic Hawaiian phrases.

This cultural identity, one of community and compassion, is as colorful as the golden sands and azure waters. The best introduction to this unique culture is through the official language: Hawaiian.

Once in danger of extinction, Hawaiian is one of three languages used in the state today. It never used to be a written language prior to Western contact, but now the beauty of these Hawaiian words can be written, read, and learnt prior to your arrival to the island.

Play your part in keeping the language alive and connect with the local culture as we learn some essential Hawaiian phrases.


1. Aloha – Hello

Pronounced a-lo-ha

Surf boards lined up, each with a letter on spelling out 'Aloha'

Okay, so this is one of the easiest Hawaiian phrases to remember. It’s known around the world as the universal tropical greeting of Hawaii. However, Aloha means a lot more than just ‘hello’. Its literal meaning is ‘love’, as well as ‘kindness’, ‘compassion’, and ‘peace’. While used in greetings such as ‘good morning’ (Aloha kakahiaka) or ‘good afternoon’ (Aloha ‘auinalā) and ‘good evening‘ (aloha ahiahi), it also communicates that you wish the person a positive and respectful life. This all pales in comparison to the fact that ‘Aloha’, for Hawaiians, defines a force that holds together existence itself. Here, a simple greeting unlocks a window into the core of Polynesian philosophy.

2. Mahalo – Thank you

Pronounced mah-hah-loh

Trafalgar guests enjoying a Be My Guest experience in Hawaii

Show your gratitude with the Hawaiian phrase mahalo. If you’re feeling extra grateful, use mahalo nui loa (pronounced mah-hah-loh noo-ee) for ‘thank you very much’. It can also be used to praise someone or show your respect for someone or something.

The Pukui and Elbert Hawaiian dictionary tells us that mahalo comes from a Proto-Polynesian word masalo, but that doesn’t tell the full story. According to the earliest visits to Hawaii, explorers noted that the island people practiced an extremely grateful and admiring culture, meaning there was no particular word needed to express this gratitude. It most likely just wasn’t necessary, with gratitude implicit within the culture. Apparently, only much later, after integrating with western civilization, did Hawaiians use the word mahalo to say thank you.

We think you’ll also like: The best ways to respect local culture in Hawaii

3. ‘A’ ole pilikia – You’re welcome/ No problem

Pronounced ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah

Two guys from O'o Farm in Maui Hawaii
O’o Farm, Maui, Hawaii

If you want to embody Hawaii’s grateful, community-driven culture, make sure to spread the gratitude as much as possible by saying this in response to mahalo. Also, make a note that in Hawaiian, there are a lot of okinas, which are the apostrophes you see around ‘A’ in this phrase. These are glottal stops, which means a clean break between vowels. Make sure to take a break between pronouncing the vowels when you see the


4. A hui hou – Until we meet again

Pronounced ah-hoo-wee-ho-oo-uu

Hula dancers in Hawaii

A phrase similar to ‘see you soon’. You may also hear this chanted at a lū’au concert  instead of ‘encore!’.


5. Howzit? – How are you?

Pronounced how-zit

Trafalgar guests enjoying smoothies in Hawaii

This Hawaiian phrase is also used in South Africa and means ‘what’s up?’. You might hear this word used alongside braddah, the colloquial term for brother.

You might also like: 35 useful phrases to learn for your trip through Europe

6. Honu – Green sea turtle

Pronounced hoe-new

Green sea turtle in Hawaii

Hawaii’s most commonly seen turtle species, the beautiful honu are still officially listed as endangered. You’re most likely to spot one if you are snorkelling or scuba diving, as they rarely come on the shore. It is possible to see honu on the North Shore of Oahu.

Find out more about the fascinating culture and beauty of Hawaii in our destination guide

7. ‘Ono grinds – Delicious food

Pronounced oh-no grinds

Hawaii poke bowl

Show your appreciation for the special Hawaiian meals that you eat on your trip. Grinds is also often used on its own to describe good food.

8. Waina – Wine

Pronounced wy-nah

Two glasses of white wine at a Hawaiian wine tasting

Always an important word to learn in any language, the Hawaiian word for wine is easy enough to remember. Due to the volcanic soil and mountains, Hawaii produces a number of fruity wines to try.


9. Poke – poke seafood bowl

Pronounced poh-keh

Poke seafood bowl in Hawaii

One of Hawaii’s most famous dishes, poke is a salad of raw seafood and vegetables. It’s typically made from cubes of ahi tuna and served as an appetiser. It’s a must try!

11. Lū’au! – Young Taro Tops

Pronounced loo-ah-oo

Women dancing the hula in Hawaii

Okay, this may be a bit confusing – let us clear things up. lū’au is the famous Hawaiian party with hula dancing, traditional music, and a feast of Hawaiian food. It’s named after one of the foods commonly served at a lū’au: a stew made with lūʻau (literally young taro leaves), and accompanied with rice, fish or meat. If you ever find yourself in a lū’au, you’re bound to find taro leaves in more than a few dishes!


12. Hoʻomaha – vacation

Pronounced ho-oh-mah-hah

Woman with flower in her hair lying back in the sea relaxing and floating

When telling people what you’re doing in Hawaii, use this word to explain that you’re on vacation. It literally means ‘to rest’ or ‘taking a break’, but makes sense for saying you’re on vacation too.

13. Komo mai – welcome

Pronounced eh koh-moh-my

Woman with hulu attire on silhouetted during the sunset, dancing and looking out at sea

You’ll see signs with ‘Komo mai’ on them when you land at the airport, when you enter stores, or from the lips of locals greeting you in. This word for ‘welcome’ in Hawaiian means so much more than what its English form describes…Its the coming together of people, a sense of community, open arms that greet you with aloha.

14. A ‘o ia! – There you have it!

Pronounced ah-oy-yah

Dancers performer the Hawaiian welcome Lei

There you have it! 10 useful Hawaiian phrases to prepare you for your trip to the island. Use this last phrase to cheer on the local performers or fellow travellers if they get up to do a hula.


If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, consider a Trafalgar tour to really unlock the best of the islands. With something as rich and unique as the Hawaiian culture, you’ll want to make sure you experience it to the full. This is hard to do authentically when visiting the island as a typical tourist. We know this, which is why we use our extensive network of Local Experts and Travel Directors to unlock doors into native Hawaiian communities. Here, you’ll actually meet real locals, who’ll welcome you into their space and eagerly show you their culture – the authentic way. Experience the spirit of Aloha, and find out what real Island life is all about.

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