How to Pronounce Hawaiian Words in 15 Minutes

To visitors, the unfamiliar letter combinations can be daunting, and the longer words can appear downright incomprehensible! But I have a secret for you – that is just the surface. If you can invest fifteen minutes to understand these basic rules, you’ll be confidently rattling off words like humuhumunukunukuāpua’a without a second thought.

The Hawaiian language in written form was created just two centuries ago with the aim of making it easy for Westerners to learn. Pronunciation rules have few exceptions, and the alphabet was developed to have only one symbol for each sound. In fact, Hawaiian uses only 12 letters, and they’re from the same alphabet you already know.

Rule 1. Break the word up.
Just like teaching a youngster to read, breaking larger words into smaller component pieces will speed up pronouncing a word. Hawaiian makes wide use of compound words, so some of these words can get long in a hurry. Break them up, and you’ll find that most of these intimidating looking words are really a string of much simpler repeated sounds you already know how to say.

Interested in learning some Hawaiian words?

A great resource is the University Of Hawaii’s online dictionary.

Rule 2. The glottol stop ( ‘ ) is your friend.
Called the ‘okina in Hawaiian, this is simply the symbol of a short sound break in the word. Example: A’a, a type of lava, is said “Ah-Ah.” The stop also breaks the words up for you.
Note: the ‘okina can be, and often is, omitted. Make a note when you see a word that contains one, it will help you later when you see it again without.

Rule 3. Vowels are pronounced the same way every time.
a makes a short “ah” sound like the a in “above”
e makes an “eh” sound like the e in “let”
i makes an “e” sound like the e in “easy”
o makes a short “oh” sound like the o in “pole”
u makes an “oo” sound like the oo in “moo”

Note: A macron ( ¯ ) over a vowel extends the sound. (The macron is also very frequently omitted.)

Rule 4. All consonents, (with some W exceptions below) are as in English.
If that’s too easy, here’s a nuance: p and k typically have a softer sound with less aspiration.

Rule 5. Inside of words, W can sound like V.
This is the only tricky rule that requires experience to get it right. Here are some loose guidelines:
First letter of the word: a w sound
After i or e: usually a “v” sound
After u or o: most frequently like “w.”
After a: either
Fake it ’till you make it: When in doubt, you can split it down the middle and use a softer “w” sound somewhere between the two.

An often mispronounced town name that is a great example because it shows all the above rules (except W) is Pā’ia. Most visitors say “Pie A ah.” Wrong. Let’s break it down, because if you can do this one, you’re well on your way to doing the rest:

– First notice the ‘ stop. It tells us this is two sounds stuck together.
– Next, the macron over ā tells us this is an elongated a.
– So “Pā” is said just like it is spelled, and “ia” is said like “e-ah.” Slip a short stop in between, and you have it: [listen]

So there you have it – remember these five simple rules and you’ll be saying place names like you’ve lived in Hawaii for years!

  1. De De Crow says:

    The word kaumuali’i is always mispronounced. It is the name of High Chief of
    Kauai during Kamehameha I reign. It is not Kau-moo-ah-li’i. The correct
    pronunciation is Ka-oomoo- a- lee’ee.

  2. Rule 3 has vowel pronunciations, referencing English words and their vowel sounds.

    All chosen sound examples were good, helpful choices, but in English grammar, especially pronunciation, the “o” in “pole” is a LONG “o”, not a short one. A ‘short o’ would be like the ‘o’ in “top.”

    The symbol for a long ‘o; includes the macron thus ‘ō’.

    The symbol for a short o is ‘ŏ’.

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      The Pukui Dictionary has no such curved symbol for a “short o” in ōlelo hawai’i, and I know of no Hawaiian word with an “o” that sounds like the English “top.”
      Your comment in that regard seems incorrect.
      Furthermore, “poke” is Not pronounced with your “top” version of a “short o” !
      “Poke” is pronounced with the type of “o” in “coca cola” or “don’t ” (for example). The type of “o” as pronounced in any Spanish word with an “o”
      It is not a “long o” like English “hole” and it certainly is not like “top” ; it is a culturally nuanced, softened “o,” unless there is a kāhako to make it a “long o”

      • Thank you. My mother’s maiden name is Noah, shes from Hawaii and I’m from San diego , I wonder if we’re related, lol

  3. Considering there is no written Hawaiian language, and the language is so simple, why did they (missionaries} not simply make an additional letter “V” to avoid any and all ambiguity with pronunciation? Rhetorical question, but something to think about.

    • Lamakū says:

      Why think about it? They just didn’t, and it most certainly is now a written language!

  4. īlioholoikauaua pronunciation
    Ee-leo-ho-loy-ka-ooah-ooah ??

    Thanks for any help . This is the name for the Hawaiian Monk Seal

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      Pretty much.
      When you get it rolling off your tongue, it will be just right.
      Remember, too, that ōlelo hawai’i does not accent any one syllable or another. “dey all da same!” I was once told.
      Example: the name, Kamehameha is Not prounced with accent on the “me” and “me” syllables
      It is pronounced evenly … ka meha meha
      Ka = the
      mehameha = lonely one
      That’s his name

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      Kah va ee ko ee
      Ka = the
      Wai = water
      Koi = urge, implore

      Looking at the word as a whole, I find the following: created by the water, coming from the waters … perhaps formed by the waters

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      Mah kah ee low
      But the kah conjoins with the ee, not really with the low
      Kai = ocean
      Makai = toward the ocean
      kah ee said as one word, then the low on the end

  5. Tony Brown says:

    How would you pronounce
    “komo mai,noka ua ika hale welaka hao ”
    from the song My Little grass Shack.

  6. Manuel Sierra says:

    I’m trying to learn how to pronounce this phrase:
    ʻo ʻoe noʻu
    How would it be?

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m just learning, but I believe it would be “oh oh-ay no-oo”.
      I’ve also heard “‘oe” be pronounced more blended together, though, sort of like the exclamation “Oi!”.

      • Marv Duncan says:

        Oe is “to you”, “of you” or “from you.” As in Aloha Oe, farewell to thee. Both the ‘o’ and the ‘e’ are pronounced, but they almost run together, definitely no stop between them.

      • Lamakū Noa says:

        Whenever an ōlelo hawai’i “e” is said (like an English long “a”), the sound you end up on is the english “ee” sound. Say it: long english “a” … ends with the long english “ee” sound. Like “o-way”
        Thus, when spoken fluently, it blends from the long “a” sound into the “ee” sound and many only hear the “ee,” Especially when they do not know the word and, certainly, how the word is spelled.
        ‘Oe should not be thought to be said as “oy”
        It is, in fact, said as written: the “o” sound and the long english “a” sound, which very quickly ends at the “ee” sound.
        Fun with Linguistics!

  7. Laurie Pape Hadley says:


    I am looking for the correct pronunciation of :

    Me kealoha pumehana mahalo piha
    would it be?

    Meh kay-ah-low-hah
    ma-hah-low pee-hah

    Thank you

  8. I need to know how to pronounce e hoʻākoakoa and where the accents of the word would be

    Eh-Ho- AH-ko-AH-ko-AH

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      Ōlelo Hawai’i does not accent one syllable over another.
      “Dey all da same,” I was once told.
      The word should just roll out your mouth as one….
      In Ho’ākoakoa, the elongated “ā” after the ‘okina offers a point of “accent,” if you will, but definitely do not accent the “AH” syllables, as you proffered. Rather, the “ko” syllables lend themselves to a proper point of linguistic accent, but try to eliminate the English accented syllables model altogether when saying Hawaiian words.
      Ho’ākoakoa should just roll out your mouth as one.

    • Lamakū Noa says:

      In Ho’ākoakoa, the elongated “ā” after the ‘okina offers a point of “accent,” if you will, but definitely do not accent the “AH” syllables, as you proffered. Rather, the “ko” syllables lend themselves to a proper point of linguistic accent, but try to eliminate the English accented syllables model altogether when saying Hawaiian words.
      Ho’ākoakoa should just roll out your mouth as one.

  9. Please spell out the pronunciation for this statement:

    A hui hoa i ka la apopo
    a hui hou i ka lā ‘āpopo

    I was told I am mis-pronunicing “apopo”.

  10. Petteri says:

    In 1988 I was told, that every vowel following another is separated. Ma-u-na Ke-a, Hale-akala, Ma-u-i, O-ahu. The more vowels following another, the merrier :). And I’m from Finland, which probably makes it easier to understand Hawa-i-an pronunciation. Even the locals were amazed. My surname is pronounced Su-omala-inen, which actually means “Finnish”.

    • Jeremy says:

      Aohe huhu I ka haahaa.
      (ah’oh-heh hoo-hoo ee kah hahʻah-hahʻah.)
      (There is no anger in humility.)

  11. Brooke says:

    Can someone break down ‘Kauoha Mua’? I want to make sure I am pronouncing it correctly. Thank you!

    • Tracey Crouch says:

      Kah-oo-oh-ha Moo-ah

      I believe this is my best pronounciation I can suggest, as a native Hawaiian born and raised in Hawaii.

      • Petteri says:

        Absolutely! That’s what I was told, every vowel separately if they follow each other.

  12. what is the meaning of Māhaka in Hawaiian language and how do you pronounce that word? thanks

    • Mākaha is pronounced Ma•ka•ha and that is a place on the leeward side of Oahu Hawai’i

      • Lamakū Noa says:

        The word offered in māhaka, not makaha.

        Mah hah ka

        The first “ā” is elongated/held because the kāhako above it says so.

        Each syllable has the same value, that is to say, no accent on any of the syllables (unlike English.
        “Dey all da same” I was once told.

    • More like the first, but with a W sound in place of your u, and as one syllable. Mauna Kea is a place name that is well known and you probably have heard pronounced a lot lately in the news.

      • Lamakū Noa says:

        There are FIVE volcanoes on Big Island, alone. Mauna Kea recently erupted. Mauna Loa is another. Kīlauea erupted in 2018. They are All volcanoes

        Also, Offering “mow” as a pronunciation for “mau” is highly problematic. It is Not pronounced like “mow the lawn” !

        Mauna is pronounced ma oo nah, all rolled together.
        The “ma” is “ma”
        The “u” is “oo”
        The “na” is “nah”


  13. Visitor of the Big Island says:

    I went to a luau and the MC said something like “ku mau mananue” (forgive any spelling errors) and said it translated to “more love, more power”. Can anyone verify that? Thanks!

    • Jeremy says:

      Not 100% sure, but i’ve not known this ( mau mananue ) part of your post to be in the Hawaiian Language. So I think seeing the written syllables of correct pronunciations will help translate to paper from memory for you to truly find out what the MC said.
      ( he aloha, ʻoi aku ka mana. )
      >PRONUNCIATION- what looks like an apostrophe is
      the ʻokina. The (ʻoh-kee-nah) is a glottal stop, A breaf pause to attached vowel
      ( heh ah-loh-hah, ‘OH-ee ah-koo kah mah-nah.)
      >MEANING- (more love, more power) -Hope this helps.

    • You’re most likely meaning “Waipā” which is a prayer. Pronounced wa-ee-PA where the first two syllables are said in very quick succession followed by an exaggerated PA.

    • “Ka” and “Leʻa” are two different words. “Ka”, meaning “the”, is pronounced “kuh”. Leʻa, meaning “joy” is pronounced “Leh–uh”(be sure to use a quick vocal pause between the two syllables.}

    • Kawehi says:

      Kah – Lei – ah (there is a break between the lei and the ah) that is why the glottle is used (makona).

  14. Mark S says:

    I’m trying to get the proper pronunciation for the following.

    IA as in Yah

    ‘IA as in E ah

    IĀ as in E yah

    Is this correct?

  15. Janet Sharp says:

    How do I pronounce Owili Kaha?
    O-we-le Ka-ha?
    Any emphasis on certain parts?
    Thank you…and Roll Tide!

  16. I guess there is disagreement about accented and unaccented vowels. Particularly with “a” and “e”. In “Kealakekua” the syllable “ala” is prnounced “ah-luh” with the first “a” being accented, the second unaccented. (And all old-timers know how to pronounce that word due to Athur Godfrey’s song in the 50’s.) It might also be helpful to point out that every syllable consists of one vowel, one diphthong, or one consonant followed by one vowel or one dipththong. So consonants never occur at the end of a syllable. And whenever two successive syllables consist of one letter vowels, there’s almost always a glottal stop in the middle. Napoopoo is Na-po-o-po-o, not Na-poo-poo.

  17. Kim M says:

    How do you pronounce Alia o ka haawina? Is the meaning “Gods Gift” correct or would it be different with a s at the end of God?

      • Steve Hall says:

        I would like to sing these words in a song I wrote: Lovely, pleasurable, sweet smelling savor, exciting temptress, Hawaiian Beauty.

  18. Arianna says:

    I’m trying to memorize the song Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride for school. If you know and can reply before May 10 of 2018, go ahead and reply. If it’s already past May 10, don’t bother, as it’s too late to help me. How do you pronounce the Hawaiian words in the song? I have tried to look it up, but the only place I find the pronunciation, you have to pay. Thanks in advance for any help!

    • Mark says:

      Hi Arianna – if you listen to the song you should hear the proper pronunciations 🙂

    • Justice says:

      same as Mark said, just listening to the pronunciations and you will feel the rhythm scheme and catch on to the words as you go.

  19. Matthew says:

    Hi, I don’t know if someone can help but we need to get learn how to pronounce the below, taken from old poems, for a film we’re working on. Any help hugely appreciated!
    1) E Pele, e Pele! E Pele, e Pele! Huai’na huia’na! Ku ia ka lani, Pae a huila!

    2) Ku oe ko’u wahi ohelo nei la, auwe, auwe!
    Maka’u au i kau mea nui wali-wali, wali-wali!
    Ke hoolewa nei, a lewa la, a lewa nei!

    Huge thanks, Matthew

  20. Hello, how do we pronounce “Afonse”? It sounds just like “Alphonse” in English, but without the /l/. Mahalo. 🙂

    • HI! idk if you ever got an answer to this, but it’s pronounced pah- ho- eh- ho- eh. Hope this helped! 🙂

    • It’s actually puh-hoy-hoy. Since there’s no okina (or glottal stop) between the o and e, they’re not pronounced separately.

    • I believe Patty is correct here. At least that has been my experience of how it is pronounced.

    • The lava is actually “Pāhoehoe” and is pronounced “PAH-ho-eh-ho-eh.” The “hoehoe” part is said very quickly where it almost sounds like “hoy” but a slight “eh” sound remains.

      • Samantha says:

        How do you pronounce Oline? I read that it means like merry, or joyful is that true?

  21. How would the word “hānai” be pronounced? My best guess is hay-na-ee, but I’m really not sure at all.

    • The fist syllable is “ha”. The last part of the second syllable is pronounced “n” +”eye” =nai
      Which basically means “adopted” but has a closer family oriented meaning to Hawaiians

  22. Cathy T. says:

    I am hoping to find the pronunciation for a woman’s name:
    Muilan. She was the wife of Hawaiian politician Jimmy Kealoha. My guess after reading above is (phonetic ) : moo-e-lahn. Is there a stress on any syllable? Am I close?

  23. Madeline Bresler says:

    This is a great little guide. Might I suggest a 6th rule about dipthongs? The ei in lei, the au in Hanauma?

  24. There is a street in Hanalei called Weke Road…. i was told it was pronounced Veke road…which goes against the w v rules. What is the correct pronunciation here?

    • Jay Goodman says:

      Remember that rule….if it BEGINS with a W sound it is a W sound and not a V sound.

      • Seymour says:

        Not always the case. Wa’a is pronounced with a “V” sound.

    • Todd says:

      All the ‘Okina’s are gone! It is “ho'(ho as in hope)o'(as in over) i (ee) ai (as the y in by) oh-ee-ah”. Go slow, at first. Accent the ‘ho’, the ‘ai’, then the last ‘i’ (as ee). Hope this helps.

    • I’m no Hawaiian expert – or an expert at proper phonetic spelling! That said, I would feel confident saying this one verbally, but here is a stab at writing it phonetically as best I can with explanations since dialects can change how you might pronounce – I do this with typical non-regionalized American dialect in mind:
      Kah-hoo-nah (most people have heard the word kahuna – think “big kahuna”)
      new-E (New very much like the word ‘new’ with a very soft w; E said like reading letter E in alphabet)
      ha-lay (ha like “ha ha” laughing, lay like to lay down)
      kay-aloha-lah-nee (Kay, like the proper name; Aloha is spelled properly without any attempt at phonetics; La like “la la la” singing; ‘nee’ said like the body part knee)
      mah-koo-ah (Mah said like “ma” for mother; Koo like “cu” in “cu-cu clock”; Ah like “Ahhhhh, I got it!”)

      • Maluhia says:

        Almost all right. Mauka is pronounced Mau (like cow) -kah

    • Madeline Bresler says:

      The stress is on the first syllable because the macron is missing. So it’s MAH-lah-mah kah-eye-na (means to take care of the land)

  25. Aloha! Could you help me with the correct pronunciation of the word ‘oia’i’o please, meaning truth. Even with your excellent brakdown the first bit is confusing me. Many thanks!

    • Jennifer says:

      Aloha Rob! Vowels together without a glottal stop kind of blend together. So: oy-ya would be the first part. But more smooth. More like oyya? And then for the rest: e-oh.

      So altogether ʻoiaʻiʻo would be something like oyya-e-oh.

      Hope that helps!

      Oh! Also. Here’s a link to an audio pronounciation.ʻiʻo/

  26. Alyssa Vela says:

    How do you say waiu. I know it means milk, but I am unsure of how to pronounce it.

  27. Thank you so much for this reference. My husband and his siblings are Honolulu born and raised, but have pronounciation disputes all the time with Hawaiian words, as they were taught English in the home. We are expecting our first born in December and have decided to name her Makaleka (my grandmother’s name, Margaret, but in Hawaiian). According to your guide, we should be pronouncing the “le” portion as it sounds in the word “let”, but we have been pronouncing it like the word “lay”.. what is the proper pronunciation of the name Makaleka? Thank you again for this useful resource!

  28. Reigna says:

    Kia ora what is the correct pronunciation for Keilana? Is the ei pronounced as ay? Or is it e? Ngaa mihi

  29. The easiest way to remember is that a majority of hawaiian word’s vowels use the short sound. Ke’e Beach on Kauai is not pronounced Key. It’s Keh’ eh. Like the road in Pee Rd in Poipu is not pee, lol, it’s Peh’eh.

  30. When there are multiple vowels in a row and no ‘okina, how do you know which are pronounced individually (like the “ia” in Pa’ia) and which are elided (like the “ai” in kai)? I’m moving to Hawai’i and will be living on a street called “Mauna.” One realtor said it’s pronounced “maun-a” but another said “ma-oo-na” and both are long-term locals!

    • Todd says:

      Remember….the longest syllables can only be two letters. So, “ma-u-na” is correct, I believe?

      • Todd says:

        To add: there is no ‘okina, so you run it all together, so it sounds like mahhhooooonah

    • Madeline Bresler says:

      It’s mau-na. 2 syllables. There are only a few dipthongs in Hawai’ian and (like the ei in lei and the au in mauna kea).

  31. Jennifer Swearingen says:

    I always thought ai was pronounced long I as in Hawaii Kai but my friend’s son’s name is Nainoa and it’s pronounced ay as in lay. How do you know how to pronounce the ai?


    • It is ai as in kai not ay. Unfortunately your friend has been pronouncing his child’s name wrong this whole time.

    • Mark says:

      I’ve never heard it pronounced with a V sound – this is a main road name in Kahului, so it is heard pronounced often. That said, I’m not a Hawaiian language expert by any stretch of the imagination – so take that for what it’s worth!

    • Rule 5. Inside of words, W can sound like V.
      This is the only tricky rule that requires experience to get it right. Here are some loose guidelines:
      First letter of the word: a w sound

  32. claire reynolds says:

    in rule 5, your description of the pronunciation of “a with macron” obnubilated your intent when you used the term ” …tells us this is a long a.” This confuses since English “long a” pronounces as -ay. A more precise choice of terms might include elongated, lengthened or expanded, eliminating any back-and-forth, which I experienced. As for obnubilated, Merriam and Webster, my good buddies, threw that one on my windshield on my ride here. ha ha. None the less, I must agree with the general consensus that your guide here is succinct and a pleasure to follow and learn by. I have been adding classic Hawaiian lyrics to my repertoire and of course the Hawai’i state fish has been netted in the classic lyric of the 1933 July 4 Kona canoe races ditty Little Grass Shack.

    • Thank you Claire for sharing your technical understanding, it is appreciated and I have taken your advice 🙂 Aloha!

    • I appreciated your introduction of the word “obnubilated” (made cloudy, obfuscated,; and “nubil” implies young/fleeting?). Whatever… Thanks!

  33. jackie says:

    I understand the pronunciation system, which by the way is very helpful! I do agree with Jerry and his observation of “ah” as in above (“uh”).
    What is the rule for inflection/accent. I’ve been going to a very nice park/beach Kanaha. I’ve been pronouncing it kaNAha (???)

  34. Very helpful. Even one of our tour guides on Maui didn’t know about the macrons. I think pronunciation of Hawaiian is easier for someone that is familiar with Spanish as the vowels are pronounced the same. Just one criticism: “ah as in above” seems wrong. Most Americans say uh-bove, not ah-bove. Ah as in watch seems more accurate.

  35. Abby Carnes says:

    I can finally understand the road sighns and find my way around on vacation! It was EXTREAMLY helpful!

  36. Brook says:

    Great reference and nice o have it easily broken down. I also learned why some call it haWaii and some haVaii.
    I would like more sound bits so I can hear it. Being more of an auditory learner and all.

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