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Meaning Of Mahalo & 12 Hawaiian Words To Remember!

Going to a foreign holiday destination can be insanely exciting, especially if that destination is a tropical beach paradise like Hawaii.

Whether you are planning your visit through a tour agency or not, one thing that will definitely help you with your travel experiences is knowing a little bit of the local lingo.

So here are some Hawaiian words and phrases that can help you understand the locals a little better as a tourist.

Let’s start with the most important word you should know; which is Mahalo.

1. Mahalo

Pronounced muh-huh-low

Click play to listen to how Mahalo is pronounced

Mahalo Pronunciation

Mahalo means thank you! It’s a useful word to remember. Hawaiians are truly hospitable. Locals are friendly and quite charming. So if you hear someone use mahalo – it means they are saying thank you.  

But if someone says Mahalo nui loa (pronounced muh-huh-low-nuu-ee) instead of mahalo, that means they are very grateful because what they are saying is thank you very much!

*(Derived from the proto-Polynesian word – masalo)

2. Aloha

Aloha Greeting

Pronounced ah-lo-huh

Click play to listen to how Aloha is pronounced

Aloha Pronunciation

This one is a no-brainer. Hawaii is nicknamed the aloha state. It is the word you use to greet another when in Hawaii. It means hello!

Fun fact:

  • Good morning   – Aloha kakahiaka (pronounced ah-loh-hah kah-kah-hee-ah-kah)
  • Good evening   – Aloha ahiahi (pronounced ah-hih-ah-hee)
  • Farewell           – Aloha ‘oe (pronounced oh-ee)

*(Derived from the proto-Polynesian word back in 1800, alo means presence, and ha means breath – so the literal meaning translates to ‘presence of breath or even ‘presence of life’).

Recommended reading: Guide to the Hawaiian Islands with a Map

3. A hui hou

Pronounced ah-hu-iy ho-w

Click play to listen to how A hui hou is pronounced

A-hui-hou Pronunciation

This one is also used quite a bit, and you might be told this at the end of your vacation. This term means until we meet again’. It’s a super touching thing to say and the perfect parting words if you ask us.

Not-so-fun fact: In Hawaii, natives say this at funerals too.

4. Ku’uipo

Pronounced kuh-uiy-poh

This is a term of endearment; it translates to sweetheart. If you hear this word, it is usually said to a child by a parent or an adult to his/her partner. It’s a really beautiful word. And we absolutely love it.

5. Moana


Pronounced moh-ah-nah

Click play to listen to how Moana is pronounced

Moana Pronunciation

You would be familiar with this word if you had watched the Disney animation Moana.
It is the Hawaiian word for Ocean (Deep expanse of water).

(*Derived from the Polynesian language)

6. Nalu

Pronounced ah-lu

Click play to listen to how Nalu is pronounced

Nalu Pronunciation

In Hawaii, you call waves nalu. During the summer, the nalu in Waikiki can be rather lazy and gentle.

7. Shaka

Shaka Hand Sign

Pronounced shah-kuh

Click play to listen to how Shaka is pronounced

Shaka Pronunciation

This is a casually used slang word. It’s a hand sign as well and you show it when you are either having a great time or when you want to indicate that things are great!

You basically curl your three middle fingers and extend your baby finger and thumb outwards. It’s like the rock and roll sign or even the thumbs up sign, only you point the two fingers outwards, and you go shaka!

Though the word is used a lot in Hawaii, it is technically not a Hawaiian word. A 1960’s tv commercial where the actor David “Lippy” Espinda ended the commercial with shaka bruh! began this infamous hand gesture!

8. ’A’ ole pilikia

Pronounced ah o-leh pih-lih-ki-yuh

If you hear a local say ’A’ ole pilikia, they are saying no problem. It shows that they are perfectly ok, and they are feeling really chill! Sometimes they also use it to say you are welcome.

So, if you thank a Hawaiian national and they respond with ’A’ Ole Pilikia, they are saying ‘you are welcome’.

9. Ono grinds

Hawaii Plate

Pronounced oh-noh gry-nds

This one is actually a less formal word and falls more under slang words. Still, it means delicious (ono) food (grinds)! Hawaii has a very vibrant local cuisine with flavours that are mouth-watering and wholesome.

If you want to make your compliments sound sweeter and more heartfelt, nothing like complementing in the native language. So make sure to remember this one.  

10. Hau’oli

Pronounced hoh-o-lee

This is a great one and it means joy or happy! A great way to increase your hau’oli is to come to Hawaii for your vacation. Because it’s full of beauty and incredibly wonderful people.

11. Wiki Wiki

Pronounced wih-kay wih-kay

If you hear a Hawaiian say this to you, they probably want you to come or walk quickly, or hurry! So if someone says this to you – most probably your tour guide, then make haste!

12. Luau

Luau Performance

Pronounced loo-ah-ooh

If someone talks of taking you to a luau, you better put your dancing shoes on, because you are heading to a party! Or maybe even a feast!

If anyone knows how to throw a luau, it is Hawaii!! And if you really think about it, every day is a luau when you’re in Hawaii!

How to say “Beautiful” in Hawaiian?

There are 3 versions you can choose from, depending on the context. 

Nani(Nah-knee) – it’s the standard term used, but it can also be used to show something or someone is pretty. 

Ho’onani (ho-oh-nah-knee) – this is more of a verb, used to describe something pretty or beautiful.

Makalapua (ma-caw-la-poo-ahh) – the Hawaiian way to say handsome.

How to say “I Love you” in Hawaiian

This one is popular, for I love you, you can say – Aloha wau iā ‘oe (ah-lo-huh wa-u ay-yeh o-iee)

How to say “Bye” in Hawaiian

This one is an easy one – it’s simply Aloha

You may ask – isn’t that how you greet someone in Hawaiian? You are not wrong. However, it is also the word you use to say farewell. 

Editorially Reviewed By:

Nichola is a writer/editor and a shy foodie who shares a very soft spot for all things travel. She considers herself to be an island girl at heart, and nothing excites her more than learning about new places people can explore and biting into a slice of sweet melon on a hot and sunny day.

She has specialized in travel writing for over 5 years, all the while being a lifelong (die-hard) anime fan!