Hawaiian grammar

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Main article: Hawaiian language

This article summarizes grammar in the Hawaiian language.


Hawaiian is a predominantly verb–subject–object language. One exception is if the sentence has a negative mood and the subject is a pronoun, in which case word order is subject–verb–object instead (e.g. ʻaʻole ʻo ia e puka ana, "not he [future] graduate [single event]", "he won't graduate"). Another exception is that if there is an emphatic adverbial phrase at the start of the sentence, a pronoun subject precedes the verb.[1]:p.29 Word order is flexible, and the emphatic word can be placed first in the sentence.[1]:p28 Hawaiian largely avoids subordinate clauses,[1]:p.27 and often uses a possessive construction instead.[1]:p.41

Within the noun phrase, adjectives follow the noun (e.g. ka hale liʻiliʻi "the house small", "the small house"), while possessors precede it (e.g. kou hale "your house"). Numerals precede the noun in the absence of the definite article, but follow the noun if the noun is preceded by the definite article.[1]:p.31

Hawaiian, like English, is a non-pro-drop language. Nonetheless, there is an exception with commands, where the use of subject pronouns is optional. In these cases, the subject pronoun is seldom used if the context deems it unnecessary, as in e hele i ke kula "[imperfective] go to the school", "go to school"; here, the subject "you" is understood, and can be omitted.

Yes-no questions can be unmarked and expressed by intonation,[2]:p.32 or they can be marked by placing anei after the leading word of the sentence.[1]:p.23 Examples of question-word questions are He aha kēia? "A what this?", "What is this?" and 'O wai kou inoa "[subject] who your name?", "What is your name?"

The typical detailed word order is given by the following,[1]:p.19 with most items optional:

(a) Tense/aspect signs: i, ua, e, etc.
(b) Verb
(c) Qualifying adverb: mau, wale, ole, pu, etc.
(d) Passive sign: 'ia
(e) Verbal directives: aku, mai, etc.
(f) Locatives nei or , or particles ana or ai
(g) Strengthening particle: no
(h) Subject
(i) Object or predicate noun

See also Hawaiian Language: Syntax and other resources.


A verb can be nominalized by preceding it with the definite article.[1]:p.37


In Hawaiian, there is no grammatical gender. The word for third person (he, she, it) is ia. It is commonly preceded by ʻo as in ʻo ia but should always be written as two words, never as one.

Number and articles[edit]

In Hawaiian, the noun usually does not change form to determine the number. Rather, the article changes to determine the number.

Generally, the singular definite articles are ke when the noun begins with the letter k, e, a, or o and ka when the noun begins with any other letter. A mnemonic for remembering this is to remember that "ke" is used for any nouns beginning with the letters in "ke ao" (a cloud). The plural definite article is . The singular indefinite article is he. Examples:

ka puke (the book) vs. nā puke (the books)
ka pākaukau (the table) vs. nā pākaukau (the tables)
He kanaka maikaʻi ʻo ia. ('A-person-good-s/he.' S/He is a good person.)

Some nouns lengthen the antepenultimate vowel in the plural:

ke kanaka (the person) vs. nā kānaka (the people)
ka wahine (the woman) vs. nā wāhine (the women)

To pluralize nouns marked with a possessive, add mau between the possessive and the noun.

kaʻu mau puke (my books)
kona mau puke (his books)

Grammatical gender[edit]

Hawaiian nouns belong to one of two genders, known as the kino ʻō (o-class) and the kino ʻā (a-class) . Classes are only taken into account when using the genitive case (see table of personal pronouns below).

Kino ʻō nouns, in general, are nouns whose creation cannot be controlled by the subject, such as inoa "name", puʻuwai "heart", and hale "house". Specific categories for o-class nouns include: modes of transportation (e.g. kaʻa "car" and lio "horse"), things that you can go into, sit on or wear (e.g., lumi "room", noho "chair", ʻeke "bag", and lole "clothes"), and people in your generation (e.g., siblings, cousins) and previous generations (e.g. makuahine "mother").

Kino ʻā nouns, in general, are those whose creation can be controlled, such as waihoʻoluʻu "color", as in kaʻu waihoʻoluʻu punahele "my favorite color". Specific categories include: your boyfriend or girlfriend (ipo), spouse, friends and future generations in your line (all of your descendants).

Previously, Hawaiian grammatical gender was called classes due to a lack of familiarity with deeper Hawaiian grammatical structures. To wit, the inflection of the preposition of o "of" (kino ʻō) to a "of (kino ʻā). This is especially important for prepositional and subordinate phrases:

ka mea "the thing"

kona mea "his thing (nonspecific)"

kāna mea "his thing (which he created or somehow chose)"

ka mea āna i ʻike ai "the thing that he saw"

kāna (mea) i ʻike ai "what he saw"

kēia ʻike ʻana āna "this thing that he saw (purposefully)"

kēia ʻike ʻana ona "this thing that he saw (purportedly)" where the seeing isn't much import

Demonstrative determiners[edit]

Demonstrative determiners Proximal Medial Distal
Singular kēia kēnā kēlā
Plural kēia mau kēnā mau kēlā mau
Singular (aforementioned) ua ... nei ua ... lā/ala ua ... lā/ala
Plural (aforementioned) ua mau ... nei ua mau ... lā/ala ua mau ... lā/ala

Personal pronouns[edit]

Personal pronouns
Singular (1) Dual (2) Plural (3+)
1st 2nd 3rd 1st incl. 1st excl. 2nd 3rd 1st incl. 1st excl. 2nd 3rd
Case Nominative au ʻoe ia kāua māua ʻolua lāua kākou mākou ʻoukou lākou
Genitive a-class kaʻu kāu kāna kā kāua kā māua ʻolua kā lāua kā kākou kā mākou ʻoukou kā lākou
o-class koʻu kou kōna kō kāua kō māua ʻolua kō lāua kō kākou kō mākou ʻoukou kō lākou
affectionate kuʻu Only used in 1st and 2nd person singular.
iaʻu ʻoe iā ia iā kāua iā māua ʻolua iā lāua iā kākou iā mākou ʻoukou iā lākou


Tense, aspect, and mood[edit]

Verbs can be analytically modified to indicate tense, aspect and mood as follows:[1]:p.19

  • ua + verb: perfective aspect, past tense; or perfect tense/aspect (ua hana au "I worked", "I have worked"). Note that the pre-verbal marker ua is often omitted in speech.
  • i + verb: past tense (i hana au "I worked"); or, perfect participle (i hana "having worked", "who had worked")
  • e + verb + ana: imperfective aspect (e hana ana au "I was working", "I will be working")
  • ke + verb + nei: present tense, progressive aspect (ke hana nei au "I am working")
  • e + verb: future tense/mood (e hana au "I will work"); or, infinitive (e hana "to work"); or, imperative mood (e hana oe "Work thou!")
  • mai + verb: negative imperative mood
  • verb + ʻia: passive voice where the agent is marked by e (Ua hana ʻia ka honua e ka Haku. The world was created by the Creator.)

In his "Introduction to Hawaiian Grammar," W.D. Alexander[1] proposed that Hawaiian has a pluperfect tense as follows:

  • ua + verb + ʻē: pluperfect tense/aspect (ua hana ʻē au "I had worked")

However, this is debatable since ʻē simply means "beforehand, in advance, already".[3] Andrews [Gram. 1.4] suggested the same thing that Alexander forwards. However, Ua hana ʻē au could mean both "I have already worked", "I already worked", and (depending on the temporal context) "I had worked previous to that moment." "Already" is the operative unifier for these constructions as well as the perfective quality denoted by ua. ʻĒ therefore is acting like a regular Hawaiian adverb, following the verb it modifies:

Ua hana paha au. Perhaps I worked.

Ua hana mālie au. I worked steadily, without disruption.

Ua hana naʻe au. I even worked.

Equative Sentences[edit]

Hawaiian doesn't have a copula verb meaning "to be" nor does it have a verb meaning "to have". Equative sentences are used to convey this group of ideas. All equative sentences in Hawaiian are zero-tense/mood (i.e., they cannot be modified by verbal markers, particles or adverbs).

Pepeke ʻAike He "A is a B"[edit]

Pepeke ʻAike He is the name for the simple equative sentence "A is a(n) B". The pattern is "He B (ʻo) A." ʻO marks the third person singular pronoun ia (which means "he/she/it") and all proper nouns.

He kaikamahine ʻo Mary. Mary is a girl.

He kaikamahine ʻoia. She is a girl.

He Hawaiʻi kēlā kaikamahine. That girl is (a) Hawaiian.

He haumana ke keiki. The child is a student.

Pepeke ʻAike ʻO[edit]

Pepeke ʻAike ʻO is the name for the simple equative sentence "A is B." The pattern is " ʻO A (ʻo) B," where the order of the nouns is interchangeable and where ʻo invariably marks the third person singular pronoun ia and all proper nouns (regardless of where it is in the utterance).

ʻO Mary ʻoia. ʻOia ʻo Mary. She is Mary.

ʻO Mary nō ia. ʻOia nō ʻo Mary. It's Mary.

ʻO wau ʻo Mary. ʻO Mary wau. I'm Mary.

ʻO ʻoe ʻo Mary. ʻO Mary ʻoe. You are Mary.

ʻO Mary ke kaikamahine. ʻO ke kaikamahine ʻo Mary. Mary is the girl. The girl is Mary.

ʻO ka haumana ke keiki. ʻO ke keiki ka haumana. The student is the child. The child is the student.

Pepeke Henua (Locational Equative)[edit]

Pepeke Henua is the name for the simple equative sentence "A is located (in/on/at/etc. B)." The pattern is "Aia (ʻo) A..."

Aia ʻo Mary ma Hilo. Mary is in Hilo.

Aia ʻoia maloko o ka wai. He/she/it is inside (of) the water.

Aia ka haumana mahea? Aia mahea ka haumana? Where is the student?

Pepeke ʻAike Na[edit]

Pepeke ʻAike Na is the name of the simple equative sentence "A belongs to B." The pattern is "Na (B) A." The singular pronouns undergo predictable changes.

Pronoun Agentive Genitive "for" or "belonging to"
First person singular "I" (w)au naʻu
Second person singular "You" ʻoe nāu
Third person singular "he/she/it" (ʻo)ia nāna
First person plural, dual inclusive "we; you and I" kāua na kāua

Pepeke ʻAike Na Examples:

Naʻu ke kaʻa. The car belongs to me. That's my car.

Na Mary ke keiki. The child is Mary's. It's Mary's child.

Nāna ka penikala. The pencil belongs to him/her/it.

Nāu nō au. I belong to you. I'm yours.


ʻO kēia ke kaʻa nāu. This is the car I'm giving to you.

He makana kēlā na ke aliʻi. This is a present for the chief.

Other verbal particles[edit]

Other post-verbal markers include[4]:pp.228–231

  • verb + mai: "toward the speaker"
  • verb + aku: "away from the speaker"
  • verb + iho: "down"
  • verb + a'e: "up", "adjacent"
  • stative verb + + agent: agent marker

Causative verb creation[edit]

Causative verbs can be created from nouns and adjectives by using the prefix ho'o-, as illustrated in the following:[2]:p.24

  • nani "pretty"; ho'onani "to beautify"
  • nui "large"; ho'onui "to enlarge"
  • hui "club"; ho'ohui "to form a club"


Reduplication[2]:p.23 can emphasize or otherwise alter the meaning of a word. Examples are:

  • 'au "to swim"; 'au'au "to bathe"
  • ha'i "to say"; ha'iha'i "to speak back and forth"
  • ma'i "sick"; ma'ima'i "chronically sick"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Alexander, W. D., Introduction to Hawaiian Grammar, Dover, 2004.
  2. ^ a b c Schütz, Albert J., All About Hawaiian, U. of Hawaii Press, 1995.
  3. ^ "Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi". wehewehe.org. Retrieved 2016-05-28. 
  4. ^ New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary, grammar section (pp. 225-243), U. of Hawaii Press, 1992.