Do you plan on traveling to Hawaii for this summer or a family trip?
Thanks to its famous beaches and beautiful island culture, Hawaii is one of the top places to visit. The Hawaii Tourism Authority recorded over 10 million tourists came to visit the Islands in 2019.
If you plan to visit the beautiful archipelago soon, you need to prepare for the trip. A great way to do it is to learn the top Hawaiian phrases you’ll hear and likely use when you get there. Below, we have a list of these typical phrases you must know before you make your trip.
Let’s begin with something simple and already known to almost everyone. The word “Aloha” is a common Hawaiian term that translates as “Hello” to many people who aren’t from Hawaii. However, Aloha means more than hello, especially when you say it in Hawaii.
The literal meaning of Aloha is “love”. The phrase acknowledges the “ha” or the “breath of life” in each person. It’s a term that wishes a positive life for the other person.
You may also hear the word said with other terms. “Good morning” is the English translation of “Aloha kakahiaka” while “Aloha auinala” is the Hawaiian phrase for “Good day” or “Good afternoon”. If you want to bid someone a good evening, say “Aloha ahiahi”.
2. Mahalo & Mahalo Nui Loa
Yet another common phrase in Hawaii is “Mahalo”. You’ll hear it after you pay your bill at a restaurant or when you give a tip for the housekeeper. You’ll see the phrase stuck onto some garbage bins.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, Mahalo means “Thank you”.
Now, you might be wondering why you’d see the word on garbage bins. Note that the city of Oahu alone generates over 2.2 million tons of waste. This waste comes from residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
Since tourism is the state’s top source of income, it places great care on the environment. Placing the word mahalo on trash bins is how the locals thank visitor’s effort to help the environment. It’s their way to say “mahalo for disposing of trash right”.
At other times, you’ll hear people say “Mahalo nui loa”. The extended-phrase means “Thank you very much”. Use it if you want to be extra polite or to show deep gratitude.
3. A’ Ole Palikir
How do you respond to someone if they thank you in Hawaiian?
We’re wired to say phrases like “You’re welcome” when someone thanks us for something we did. In Hawaii, you can respond to mahalo in plain English. If you want to engage with locals, use the phrase “A’ ole palikir.”
Note that the correct way to say it is “ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah.” This phrase is a good response when someone thanks you.
Learning the language of the culture shows your interest in it. It doesn’t matter that you mispronounced the phrase or stuttered halfway through.
The effort to try is enough for locals to appreciate your attempts.
4. E Komo Mai
If you’re visiting a home or a business, you’ll hear people welcome you in with the words “E komo mai”. You can even see it on signs above the entrances of many businesses. In English, the Hawaiian phrase “E komo mai” means “Come in” or “Welcome”.
You can also say these words when you welcome a guest into your transient home. To avoid embarrassments, pronounce it like “eh koh-moh ma-ee”. Say this phrase instead of the typical “Come on in” to give your guest a pleasant surprise.
5. No Ka ‘Oi
When you visit the islands, a popular saying you’ll hear in Hawaii is “Maui no ka ‘oi”. A basic English translation of this phrase is “Maui is definitely the best”. According to some, “No ka ‘oi” better translates to “No better than”.
In any case, when you want to express that something is the best you’ve experienced, say this. Use it to describe a dessert, a person, or a place. Don’t forget to say the word you’re describing before the phrase “No ka ‘oi”.
6. Aloha Wau Ia ‘Oe
One way to learn Hawaiian the easy is to speak through love. This phrase is something the romantics are sure to enjoy learning about. When you’re on a beach, turn to your partner and say, “Aloha wau ia ‘oe”.
It means I love you. If you remember, the word “aloha” stands for love. In this case, you’re directing and expressing that love to someone through the phrase. Say it as you sit under a cabana or as you watch the sunset with your loved one.
Learning the local language is a great way to prepare before your trip. For this phrase, we’re turning the tables. Because tourists often use it, “Howzit” became the Hawaiian adaptation of the phrase “How are you?”
It’s an informal greeting you may hear said when friends meet. Often, you’ll also hear the term “Braddah” (brother) thrown in with the greeting. This phrase is like the South African “howzit”, which means the same thing.
8. A Hui Hou
If you see a Hawaiian concert, you may hear this phrase instead of “Encore”. You’ll also hear these words exchanged when friends part ways. It’s one of the top Hawaiian phrases you should know about if you want to fit in and learn the culture better.
The meaning that’s closest to this phrase is “See you soon” or “Until we meet again”. Others add an “aku” at the end of the sentence. This means that they plan to meet again soon.
The best and correct way to say this phrase is “ah hoo-wee ho-oo”.
9. Ono Grinds or Ono Grindz
When you visit Hawaii, you’re sure to get a taste of their delicious local meals. When you find exceptional food, say “Ono grinds” to show your appreciation. Pronounce ono as as “oh-no”.
10. E Hele Kaua I Ke Kahakai
Are you ready to go to the beach? Get your friends to dive into the water with you the way locals do. Say “E hele kaua i ke kahakai” to invite them to the beach.
We know it’s a mouthful, but it’s a great way to impress your new Hawaiian friends.
11. A ‘O Ia
Speaking of dancing, the hula is a popular activity during events like the Lu’au. If local performers or you do the hula, you’ll hear people cheer you on. The phrase they’ll use is “A ‘o ia!”
Other Top Hawaiian Phrases to Know
The following are less like Hawaiian phrases and more like words. However, locals often use and mix them with English words. Thus, we’re considering them worthy of this list.
When you befriend a local, they may invite you to see the Lu’au. This is the dance or party you’d imagine when you say Hawaii. It’s an important Hawaiian celebration that often involves traditional singing, hula or dancing, and music.
If you’ve seen the animated movie Lilo & Stitch before, you already know what ohana means. In reality, ohana means family in an extended and deeper sense. It means not only blood-related family but also adopted family.
It’s an interesting take on the binds that keep people tied together. It highlights their bonds and reminds them of their importance in the family unit. In the workplace, some people may refer to a group of close and respected colleagues as their ohana.
If you’ve seen or met surfers, you’ll notice they often do a particular hand gesture. This gesture is a fist but with the pinky and thumb stretched and extended to form something like a “Y”. Hawaiians refer to this gesture as the shaka.
It symbolizes the Aloha spirit within people. It represents solidarity, understanding, or the bonds of friendship. Now, you know what it’s called and that it doesn’t only mean “hang loose”.
If you go to Hawaii, locals may call you a “Haole”. Haole is a person who is not native to Hawaii. Often, it’s what they will call someone who is white.
Listen well to a person’s tone when they refer to you as such. Some may use it as a derogatory term, but this isn’t always true. Also, read the situation well before you decide the meaning of the term referring to you.
Mauka and Makai
Go to the direction of the mauka. The restaurant you’re looking for is near the makai. These may be phrases told to you by locals when you ask them for directions.
The Hawaiian word “mauka” means “mountain” while ocean is the translation of the word “makai”. Now, when you get there and ask for directions, you won’t get too confused.
Uncle and Auntie
Often, kids are great truth-tellers no matter what part of the world they live in. However, you mustn’t feel any offense when children call you an Uncle or an Auntie. To those who are sensitive about their age, take note.
It’s a term of endearment used for elders. When a child calls you Uncle or Auntie, it means they respect you.
Get the Best Hawaiian Experience
One of the most helpful Hawaii visit tips is to know typical expressions. You don’t need to be the person speaking these phrases to learn them. It’s part of the two-way feature of communication and language.
That’s it for our list of the top Hawaiian phrases. We hope you learned and apply these words when you visit Hawaii later.
If you want more content on getting great experiences, check out our other guides.