0402P Pronunciation Practice: Kahakō

Practice word pairs with macrons used to change meaning


Vowels with kahakō are drawn out a bit longer than vowels without them, as we learned in video 0402V Pronunciation #2 about macrons. Although the kahakō alters the sound of the word in what may seem to be a very subtle way, the change in meaning is most often quite drastic. Listed below are 12 word pairs with meanings that are altered by the presence of the kahakō.

Time to Practice!

For this practice lesson, read through the list below and say the pairs of words to yourself, taking note of the differences in pronunciation and meaning. After trying by yourself a few times, listen to the correct pronunciation of each word pair by clicking on the audio links provided and then say them once again. You should say them at least four times each to get yourself used to the way your mouth has to move to make the same sounds as I do in the examples. Then say them four more times and four more times again throughout the day!

Word Pairs (click to play)

1 paku (to expel, “kick out”)pakū (to burst, as a boil)
2 paʻu (laborious work)paʻū (soaked, drenched)
3 paʻū (soaked, drenched)pāʻū (skirt, hula skirt)
4 lolo (brain)lōlō (paralyzed, numb)
5 kaua (war)kauā (outcast, slave)
6 kauā (slave)kāua (pronoun inclusive for “us” or “we”)
7 pupu (small, tiny)pupū (to stall, move slowly)
8 pupū (to stall, to move slowly)pūpū (a shell, or appetizer)
9 ʻole (not, without)ʻolē (conch shell, trumpet sound)
10 kukū (a thorn)kūkū (a term like “grandma” or “grandpa”)
11 hio (a gust of wind)hiō (to lean to the side)
12 pahu (a box or drum)pahū (to explode)

Further Practice

Take some time to write down each of the word pairs and, as you do so, think on the meaning of the word and also how it feels to actually write the kahakō mark on top of the vowels. You will find it quite interesting compared to just looking at it done for you, because you will be experiencing what we all went through when we first learned to write: how to get the lines drawn at the correct angle and in the correct length!

Also remember that the vowel i with a kahakō ( ī ) loses its little dot. The kahakō goes right through where the dot would be, so see if you can write that a few times to get used to it.

kīkaha to soar in the sky, turning, wheeling, as a bird
lī anu the feeling of being cold and shivering
lī lua1 “doubly cold” (poetic)
līhau a type of light rain or cool morning dew
līlīlehua2 the “Texas sage” flower
mīkana / hēʻī3 a papaya fruit
mōʻī4 a royal, as a king or queen
nīele to be overly inquisitive, intrusive, or snooping
nīʻau5 the “midrib”, or backbone, of a single coconut leaf
lī kāmaʻa shoe laces


  • 1. You may have heard this in the famous mele “Kau Lī Lua”: Kau lī lua i ke anu (o) Waiʻaleʻale (bitterly cold in the chill of Waiʻaleʻale) referring to being up in the highlands of Kauaʻi.
  • 2. The līlīlehua was made famous in recent times by musician Kahauanu Lake and scholar Mary Kawena Pukui who wrote the song “Pua Līlīlehua”. The song takes place in O’ahu’s Pālolo Valley, where two suitors court a cherished sweetheart. One is a human being, the other a mo’o (a legendary type of being of multiple forms).
  • 3. the word mīkana tends to be used more on Hawaiʻi island than elsewhere, where hēʻī is more popular. The other options (milikana and papaia) are not used today, as far as I can tell.
  • 4. In Hawaiʻi after about 1800, the word mōʻī came to mean a “monarch” or ruler of all the land (all of the islands). King Kamehameha I was the first of this dynasty of Mōʻī, all the way up to Queen Liliʻuokalani at the end of the 1800s. This is the meaning of mōʻī we use today.
  • 5. The nīʻau are stripped in the hundreds from the individual leaves of the coconut fronds and then dried and bundled together at one end to form a most excellent hand-held broom about 3 feet long. It is used throughout the Pacific to sweep the floor or even the dry dirt of pathways and the areas surrounding houses, to great effect!

Next Steps

Following this lesson, you will want to move on to the next video in this Series, 0403V Pronunciation #3 about the glottal stop (ʻokina). Then you can practice one more set: 0403P Pronunciation Practice: ʻOkina. Enjoy!

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