0506V Using Numbers #1

Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers in Hawaiian

This 20 minute video will explain the use of numbers both before and after content words in Hawaiian; that is, the use of numbers either as kaʻi or kāhulu.


First, let us define a couple of new terms:

in simplified terms, a kaʻi is a word that “leads” (alakaʻi ) a noun, adjective, adverb, or verb and acts similarly to a determiner in English (such as the cat, my cat, some cats, which cat, nine cats, both cats, and so on). Some common Hawaiian examples are he, ka, ke, nā, koʻu, kou, kona, and kekahi.
a kāhulu is a word or phrase added after another word to add some sort of additional description to that word (this is called a “modifier” in English).

You may wish to consult the reference page 0699R Hawaiian Parts of Speech if you wish to read a little more detailed definition of kaʻi and kāhulu. You will use these two terms over and over as you learn Hawaiian language.

English Language Equivalents

In English, we use numbers in three major ways: numbers can be cardinal, ordinal, or nominal. For this lesson, we will be covering cardinal and ordinal numbers. (Nominal numbers are covered in a separate lesson).

Cardinal numbers (think “cardinal = counting”) are used to tell how many of something we may have, thus showing quantity. They are used before the item you are referring to. For example:

two islands
four canoes
40 paddlers

Ordinal numbers (think “ordinal = order”) are used to tell the order of something in a set. They are also used before the item you are referring to in English, but they have their own fancy endings, like -st, -nd, -rd, and -th. For example:

the second island
the fourth canoe
the 40th paddler

Hawaiian Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers

In Hawaiian, cardinal numbers (counting things) go before the item we are talking about, whereas ordinal numbers (ordered things) go after the item. We can define this using Hawaiian terms by saying that cardinal numbers act as kaʻi, and ordinal numbers act as kāhulu. See the following table to compare.

#Cardinalas KaʻiOrdinalas Kāhulu
2two islandsʻelua mokuthe second islandka moku ʻelua
4four canoesʻehā waʻathe fourth canoeka waʻa ʻehā
4040 paddlers40 hoe waʻathe 40th paddlerka hoe waʻa kanahā

Zero and One: Unusual Cases

There are a couple of numbers we have to watch out for, and those are zero and one. You were introduced to them in video 0504V Numbers Zero and One, Quantity and Question, so you should review that video if you need a refresher. Here’s what they look like in the context of this lesson:

#Cardinalas KaʻiOrdinalas Kāhulu
0no islandsʻaʻohe mokuthe zero islandka moku ʻole1
1one canoehoʻokahi waʻathe first canoeka waʻa mua2
1one paddlerhoʻokahi hoe waʻathe #1 paddlerka hoe waʻa ʻekahi3


  • 1. We would have to imagine some situation where saying “the zero island” would make sense, of course, like in a mathematics lesson for kids perhaps.
  • 2. Using “mua” for the first item in a set or list is best practice.
  • 3. This would be the best way to point out paddler #1 versus paddler #40 in a race, for example.

Level Check

Just to double check before we start, make sure you know how to count (which you will find in 0502V Hawaiian Number Basics: From 1 to 100) and that you know about zero and one (0504V Numbers Zero and One, Quantity and Question).

Watch the Video!

In the video for this lesson, you will be introduced to the concepts of kaʻi and kāhulu, and you will learn how to construct phrases like those shown in the examples above. The link for the video is at the bottom of this page.

Next Steps

After you are done watching the video, don’t forget to start using these small steps of understanding in your daily lives. You will find, I believe, that learning the language in very small steps with plenty of time to practice little by little over many days will allow it to “sink in” and end up in long-term memory, where we want it!

Next in this 0500 Numbers Series is Telling Time On The Hour.

You may also elect to jump directly to the start of the 0600 series of videos which will give you a deeper understanding of kaʻi (articles and determiners) and how to make short phrases of your own in Hawaiian!

Video Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Numbers used as kaʻi (such as “two cars”)
  3. What is a kāhulu? (adjectival or adverbial word)
  4. Examples with numbers
  5. Review
  6. Next Steps

Length: 20 minutes

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