Hawaiian Words in English: Their Origins and Meanings

The Hawaiian language, with its alluring sounds and unique words, has had a significant influence on the English language, especially in Hawaii and the surrounding regions. As these two languages have mingled over the years, several Hawaiian words have found their way into everyday English conversations, enriching the vocabulary and providing a glimpse into the culture and history of Hawaiians. This article will explore some of the most commonly used Hawaiian words in English and their meanings.

Originating from an island paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian language has a captivating essence that has intrigued people from all around the world. Its integration with English has resulted in a fascinating blend of language and culture. From widely recognized words such as “aloha,” which conveys sentiments of love, greeting, and farewell, to terms referencing local customs and unique experiences, these borrowed words provide English speakers with a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture.

Incorporating Hawaiian words into English conversations not only enhances communication but also allows speakers to embrace the spirit of the Aloha State. Throughout this article, readers will learn about various Hawaiian words that have been adopted by the English language, as well as the history and significance behind each term.

Origins of Hawaiian Words in English

The Hawaiian language has had a significant influence on the English language, with several words of Hawaiian origin making their way into everyday English conversations. The process of English incorporating Hawaiian words began during the early interactions between English speakers and native Hawaiians. These words were often borrowed to describe unique cultural aspects or elements specific to the Hawaiian Islands, which had no direct English translations.

Hawaiian Words in English

One of the most well-known Hawaiian words in English is aloha, which can mean “hello,” “love,” or “goodbye.” It holds a deeper cultural and spiritual significance for native Hawaiians, as it embodies their core values of compassion, peace, and affection. Similarly, the word mahalo has been integrated into English to express gratitude or “thank you.”

Other Hawaiian words that have made their way into English mainly pertain to the environment, food, and clothing. For example, the word ukulele refers to a small, guitar-like instrument native to Hawaii. Food items like mahimahi (a type of fish) and traditional Hawaiian garments like the muʻumuʻu (a loose-fitting dress) are also commonly used in English to describe their respective counterparts.

It is essential to understand that the integration of Hawaiian words into English has not diluted the significance or usage of these words in their native language. Native Hawaiians continue to use their language and maintain its rich history and cultural identity. The borrowing of Hawaiian words into English is a way for non-Hawaiian speakers to appreciate and connect with the unique aspects of Hawaiian culture that these words represent.

In conclusion, the incorporation of Hawaiian words into the English language has allowed speakers to recognize and embrace the distinct culture and identity of the Hawaiian Islands. Through the use of these words, English speakers can gain a better understanding of the spirit, values, and environment that shape the Hawaiian way of life.

Common Hawaiian Words and Phrases

In Hawaii, the native language is rich with unique words and phrases that not only are used in daily conversations but also express the spirit of the islands. By learning some essential Hawaiian words and expressions, one can enhance their experience while visiting or living in Hawaii.

Aloha and Mahalo

Aloha: The Definition

Aloha is a significant word in the Hawaiian language, reflecting the warmth and spirit of the people and culture of Hawaii. It is not only a simple greeting or farewell but also carries a deeper meaning of love, affection, and compassion. In its simplest form, Aloha means “hello” and “goodbye.” However, the phrase encompasses a broader range of meanings, expressing the genuine connection and emotional bond between individuals.

The Hawaiian language is unique and traces its origins back to Polynesian languages. The word Aloha can be broken down into the root words “alo,” meaning presence or face, and “ha,” which refers to breath or life essence. When Hawaiians say Aloha, they are essentially wishing for another’s presence in their lives, acknowledging their importance and showing their respect.

Mahalo: Showing Gratitude

Another essential word in the Hawaiian language is Mahalo, which translates to “thank you” in English. The term is used to express gratitude, appreciation, and praise. Mahalo shows respect and acknowledgement for someone’s actions or kindness, recognizing the importance and value they have contributed.

Mahalo, like Aloha, has a deeper, spiritual meaning in Hawaiian culture. It involves a sense of humility, sincerity, and genuine thankfulness. When using the word Mahalo, it’s essential to understand its significance and use it with the appropriate intention, as it reflects Hawaii’s values and traditions.

In summary, Aloha and Mahalo are powerful words in Hawaiian language, carrying deep meanings, and representing the warmth, love, and gratitude present in Hawaiian culture.

Greetings and Expressions

Aloha is perhaps the most famous Hawaiian word, meaning both hello and goodbye, as well as kindness, love, and affection. Another valuable word to know is Mahalo, which means thank you. Remembering to use “Mahalo” will show your gratitude and appreciation towards the Hawaiian locals.

Ohana is a term that signifies family but is not limited to blood relations. In Hawaii, close friends, neighbors, and even coworkers can be considered part of one’s ohana. The Hawaiian concept of family extends beyond one’s immediate circle, reflecting the strong bond that connects the local community.

Children are precious in Hawaiian culture, and the word keiki refers to children or kids. Understanding and using this term will help you interact with locals and their families in a warm and respectful manner.

When it comes to food, Hawaii offers diverse and delicious dishes. Describing something as ono means it’s tasty or delicious, and using this word will show your appreciation of Hawaiian cuisine. To be polite, it’s important to know the words ‘olu’olu, which means please, and mahalo, meaning thank you. Using these words in appropriate situations will demonstrate your courtesy and respect.

Here are some other common Hawaiian words you might find helpful:

  • Aloha Kakahiaka: Good morning
  • Aloha Ahiahi: Good evening
  • A hui hou: Until we meet again, goodbye
  • Pehea ‘oe?: How are you?
  • Maika’i: Good, fine

Hawaiian is a beautiful and distinctive language that is deeply intertwined with the culture and history of the islands. Familiarizing yourself with common Hawaiian words and phrases not only enables better communication with locals, but also helps you better appreciate and understand the spirit of Aloha.

Nature and Landmarks

Hawaii’s natural beauty is often a source of inspiration and awe for its visitors and residents. The rich Hawaiian language beautifully encapsulates the essence of nature and numerous landmarks found in the islands. This section covers various Hawaiian words in English related to the entities such as beach, mountain, valley, east, west, south, and Hawai’i.

ʻāina represents “land” in Hawaiian, with a deeper meaning beyond a simple definition. It represents a connection to the land and its importance in Hawaiian culture. For Hawaiians, the ʻāina is part of their identity and an essential aspect of their way of life.

The stunning beaches in Hawaii are often referred to as kahakai, showcasing the pristine sand and turquoise waters that are characteristic of the region. Beaches in Hawaii are not only mesmerizing but also hold cultural significance for the local people.

In Hawaii, the word for mountain is mauna. Majestic mountains like Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are prime examples of their reverence in Hawaiian culture. These mountains are both geological wonders and cultural touchstones.

Hawaiian valleys, or ʻawāwa, provide breathtaking landscapes carved out over millions of years. Numerous valleys across Hawai’i hold significant meaning for locals, often featuring lush foliage and scenic vistas.

When it comes to cardinal directions, Hawaii has a unique way of describing them. For instance, east is referred to as hikina, while west is known as komohana. Similarly, south is kūkulu hema, providing an interesting perspective on geographical terms.

Finally, the word Hawaiʻi itself is not just the name of the largest island in the archipelago, but also a symbol of its rich natural landscape and ancestral roots. With its diverse plant and animal life, and its striking geological features, Hawaiʻi represents the epitome of natural beauty and cultural significance in the Hawaiian language.

Animals and Plants

Hawaii’s unique ecosystem is home to a variety of animals and plants. The islands harbor many indigenous species and others that have been introduced over time, and they’ve also contributed numerous Hawaiian words to the English language.

One of the most common fish found in Hawaiian waters is the ahi. The ahi is a type of tuna, prized for its delicious taste and often used in traditional Hawaiian poke dishes. Another well-known marine animal in Hawaii is the honu, or green sea turtle. These gentle creatures can often be seen basking on the sandy beaches or gracefully swimming in the shallow waters.

In addition to marine life, Hawaii is home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. These seals are endemic to the Hawaiian islands and typically inhabit the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They are often spotted on the shores, especially in the more remote areas of the archipelago.

Whales, specifically humpback whales, are another notable presence in Hawaiian waters. During the winter months, these majestic creatures can be seen breaching and spouting off the coasts, as they migrate to their breeding grounds.

The Hawaiian culture is closely intertwined with nature. The hula is a traditional dance that tells stories and honors the natural world through graceful movements, accompanied by chants and music. The hula dancers often wear skirts made from the leaves of the ti plant or plaited lauhala, along with lei – necklaces made from various plants, flowers, seeds, or nuts.

Plants play a significant role in Hawaiian life as well. The lei serve not only as a decorative adornment but also as a symbol of love, friendship, and respect. They can be made from flowers like plumeria, pikake, and orchids or from the leaves of the maile vine or ferns.

In conclusion, Hawaiian culture and language showcase a strong connection to the islands’ plants and animals, with many indigenous words finding their way into English. From the ahi to the honu, Hawaii’s flora and fauna continue to be a vibrant part of the islands’ identity and an inspiration for those who visit.

Foods and Beverages

Hawaiian culture has had a significant impact on the culinary scene, and many English words have been derived from Hawaiian terms to describe various foods and beverages. Two such examples are awa and coffee.

Awa, also known as kava, is a traditional Polynesian beverage made from the dried roots of the Piper methysticum plant. In Hawaii, the dried kava root is mixed with water to create a drink commonly referred to as awa. This mildly intoxicating beverage has been used for ceremonial and social purposes for centuries in Polynesia. Awa is valued for its calming effects and its ability to promote relaxation without affecting mental clarity.

Coffee is another beverage with a notable Hawaiian connection. Kope is the Hawaiian word for coffee, and the state is particularly famous for its Kona coffee, which is grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Known for its smooth and rich flavor, Kona coffee is highly sought after by coffee connoisseurs worldwide. The volcanic soil and ideal climate conditions in the region contribute to the unique characteristics of this specialty coffee.

In addition to awa and coffee, many Hawaiian words have made their way into English when describing various food items. For example, poi is a popular Hawaiian staple made from fermented taro root, while lomi-lomi salmon, a traditional Hawaiian dish, gets its name from the Hawaiian word for massage as it is prepared by massaging raw, salted salmon. Another example is lau ‘ai, which translates to salad in English.

When it comes to naming certain fruits and other ingredients in Hawaiian, the language offers uniquely descriptive terms. For instance, hua ‘ai refers to fruit, waiū means milk, and i’a is the word for fish. Other examples include hua moa for egg, kupa for soup, and ‘i’o for meat.

The influence of Hawaiian words in English when discussing foods and beverages highlights the strong connection between the two languages and cultures. This linguistic blending enhances the appreciation and understanding of the rich culinary experiences available in Hawaii and beyond.

Hawaiian Culture and Traditions

Hawaiian culture and traditions have a deep-rooted history that encompasses the unique customs, values, and linguistic nuances of the Hawaiian people. One of the central concepts in traditional Hawaiian society is kapu, a system of sacred laws governing all aspects of life, including social, political, and religious practices. Kapu maintained balance and harmony in the community, ensuring respect for the land and its resources.

Another crucial element in Hawaiian customs is kōkua, which signifies the spirit of cooperation and helpfulness. In Hawaiian communities, neighbors, friends, and family members uphold the importance of kōkua by providing support and assistance to one another in times of need. This collective mindset fosters strong bonds and helps maintain a cohesive community.

The hula, a traditional Hawaiian dance accompanied by chants, plays a vital role in preserving and celebrating the rich history and stories of the Hawaiian people. A deeply expressive art form, the hula brings together generations through graceful body movements, facial expressions, and gestures. This dance serves as a medium to convey legends, historical events, and the spiritual connection with the natural world, keeping the vibrant Hawaiian culture alive.

One of the most recognizable and beautiful symbols of Hawaiian culture and tradition is the lei. These floral wreaths, often made from fragrant flowers, leaves, and shells, are given as tokens of love, friendship, and respect. Leis represent a meaningful gesture of warmth and hospitality, embodying the spirit of aloha present in all aspects of Hawaiian life.

In conclusion, Hawaiian culture and traditions encompass a unique blend of customs, values, and practices that stem from the deep-rooted history of the Native Hawaiian people. Elements such as kapu, kōkua, hula, and lei hold essential significance in the way of life, fostering a strong sense of community, respect for the environment, and a deep connection to the spiritual elements of the land.

Navigating the Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is a rich and vibrant part of Hawaiʻi’s cultural heritage. With a unique and melodic tone, it can be essential to have a basic understanding of Hawaiian words and phrases when exploring the islands. This section aims to provide insights into some commonly used Hawaiian words, their meanings in English, and resources to consult for further study.

To start, let’s explore some frequently encountered Hawaiian words and their English meanings:

  • Aloha: hello, goodbye, love, affection
  • Mahalo: thank you
  • Ahi: fire
  • Ahiahi: evening
  • Akamai: smart, clever, expert
  • Kōkua: help

In order to accurately pronounce these words, it is essential to become familiar with the basic Hawaiian language pronunciation guide. Hawaiian language consists of 13 letters: 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and 8 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w, ʻ). The ʻokina (ʻ) is a glottal stop, which is considered a consonant in Hawaiian language.

When learning the Hawaiian language, students will appreciate its straightforward grammatical structure. For instance, the language does not modify nouns to express numbers, unlike in English. Instead, the article performs this function, leading to simplified communication.

For those interested in more comprehensive resources on Hawaiian-English translations, options include the Hawaii State Public Library System and various online translation tools. These resources provide not only translations of individual words but also phrases, enabling users to engage in conversations with greater ease and confidence.

Engaging with the Hawaiian language serves as a deeply respectful gesture towards the rich cultural heritage of Hawaiʻi and its people. By familiarizing oneself with basic words and pronunciation rules, visitors to the islands, as well as those interested in Hawaiian culture, can navigate the language with confidence and a deeper connection to their surroundings.


Incorporating Hawaiian words into the English language helps to bridge cultures and promote understanding. Many people are already familiar with the word “Aloha”, which is a perfect example of the Hawaiian language’s impact and its deeper meaning of kindness, love, and affection.

Other Hawaiian words like “Ali’i” (chief), “Moana” (ocean), and “Wai” (fresh water) have also made their way into English vocabulary. Experiencing Hawaiian culture often includes learning about the language and its unique expressions that carry great significance.

By learning and using these Hawaiian words and phrases, one not only gains insight into the Hawaiian way of life but also contributes to preserving the rich cultural heritage of the islands.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are common Hawaiian words used in English?

Aloha, which means hello, goodbye, and love, is one of the most widely recognized Hawaiian words used in English. Other common words include mahalo (thank you), ohana (family), and honu (sea turtle). These words are frequently used in Hawaii and have also been adopted into the English language, especially within the context of Hawaiian culture and tourism.

How do you translate Hawaiian words to English?

Translating Hawaiian words to English can be done using bilingual Hawaiian-English dictionaries or online translation tools. When translating, it’s crucial to understand the context in which the word is being used, as some Hawaiian words may have multiple meanings in English. Also, consider the cultural nuances and subtleties behind the words to capture the intended meaning accurately.

What are some powerful Hawaiian words with deep meanings?

Aloha ‘āina is a powerful Hawaiian word that translates to love of the land. It demonstrates the deep connection and reverence Hawaiians have for their environment, as well as the responsibility they feel in caring for the land. Another powerful word is mana, which refers to spiritual energy or power that exists in all living things.

What is a beautiful Hawaiian word for free spirit?

The Hawaiian word for a free spirit is “keaomelemele,” which captures the essence of someone who is free-spirited, adventurous, and not bound by societal norms and expectations. It’s a poetic and expressive word embodying the spirit of individual expression and freedom.

What is the Hawaiian word for ocean spirit?

The Hawaiian word for ocean spirit is “kahakaiuhane,” which describes the deep connection Hawaiians have with the ocean. The term embodies their respect and appreciation for the ocean as a source of nourishment, transportation, and inspiration.

What does the Hawaiian word for soul mean?

The Hawaiian word for soul is “ʻuhane,” which refers to the spiritual essence or life force of a person. It is the intangible, divine part of a human being that transcends the physical body and connects with the spiritual realm. Understanding the meaning of ʻuhane helps convey the complex relationship Hawaiians have with spirituality and their ancestral beliefs.