0699R Hawaiian Parts of Speech

Hawaiian word types and brief explanations

This article is in the process of being added to over time.

This reference article will allow you to look up the terms we use when talking about Hawaiian grammar and learn about their functions. Secondarily, there is a table showing common English parts of speech and their approximate Hawaiian equivalents.

It is of great importance, first of all, that we understand that trying to describe one language with the terms built to describe another is rarely going to allow much more than a cursory appreciation of how a language is put together. There is a “native” way of thinking which is evident in part in how the words of any particular language are used together, how words might function together, and how composite constructions of those words can be manipulated in a multitude of ways to describe the world about us. It is therefore imperative that, for any language, a “home grown” grammar should be developed.

Shown below are the grammar terms used when learning, talking about, or teaching Hawaiian language. They are based on Dr. Pila Wilson and Dr. Kauanoe Kamanā’s excellent “Pepeke” system of describing Hawaiian language, which I think ranks, along with audio recordings of native speakers and the publication of a definitive Hawaiian dictionary, in the top three modern-era assets developed for the Hawaiian language over the past 50 years.

I will be adding to this list over time, so until such a point when it can be called “exhaustive”, please take it for what it is: a listing of the most common “meta-language” terms used these days. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me feedback privately if you wish to request a term or would like a better explanation, or if you perhaps disagree with what you see here.


The diagrammatic “squid” that represents an easily-identifiable type of sentence or phrase construction; its basic parts are poʻo, piko, and ʻawe (head, midsection, and tentacles). Learn more about pepeke starting with 0800V The Pepeke #1: Sentence Parts.
The “head” section of a pepeke containing one or more words in an easily recognizable pattern which varies with the type of pepeke being used. This variation of poʻo construction quickly allows the speaker, listener, or reader to determine the general semantic direction of the remainder of the pepeke. For example, a pepeke henua (locational-type pepeke) usually starts with the word “Aia” in its poʻo, whereas an action-type pepeke such as pepeke painu hamani/hehele starts with a verb phrase often wrapped in tense markers (māka painu). Learn more in the 0800 Series on Pepeke.

Heluhelu ke keiki i ka puke

The child reads the book

Reads the child the book

The middle, or “navel” of the pepeke which immediately follows the poʻo and contains a word or phrase which, in English language terms, most often equates to the subject of the sentence or phrase in which it is found. The piko almost always follows one of the three following constructions: kaʻi + memeʻa, ” ʻo ” + iʻoa, or papani along with any kāhulu as may be appropriate. The end of the piko is clearly demarcated by the use of an ʻami particle word (such as “i” or “ma” for example) which begin the ʻawe (see below). In normal speech, the piko can be often left out as understood, although due to the pressure of English language thinking patterns in which the subject has to be most often included in any particular sentence —English being the language that many modern speakers are often thinking in— the piko is often added where unnecessary in Hawaiian by modern-day second-language speakers and their students. Learn more in the 0800 Series on Pepeke

Heluhelu ke keiki i ka puke

The child reads the book

Reads the child the book

The ʻawe are the ending “tail” sections of most pepeke. Each ʻawe starts with an ʻami-type word (such as “i” or “ma”) and they most often sit one after the other following the piko. Although optional, ʻawe are very useful in that they add information to the sentence about where, when, why, how, with whom, to whom, for what reason, and so on. Learn more in the 0800 Series on Pepeke.

Heluhelu ke keikii ka pukeme kona hoa pāʻanima ka hale o kona ʻanakalai kēia lāma Hilo

The child reads the book with his play friend at the house of his uncle today in Hilo.

reads the boythe bookwith his play friendat the house of his uncletodayin Hilo

Derived from the word “alakaʻi ” (to lead), a kaʻi is a word that “leads” a memeʻa (noun, adjective, adverb, or verb). It 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. Learn more starting at 0601V The Kaʻi Determiners #1.
Loosely based on the word “hulu” (a feather), a kāhulu (acting like a hulu) is a word or phrase following another word or phrase which adds more information or an additional description much in the same way that a feather adds visual information which helps us distinguish between different species of birds (e.g., he waʻa kaulua, a canoe with two hulls). You can learn more and practice starting with 0901P Practice Describing Things #1. If you wish to compare to English grammar, read up on “modifiers” at Wikipedia, although we must note that in English, the modifier can come either before or after the word or phrase it modifies, e.g., I saw the big chicken which ran down the road, whereas in Hawaiian, kāhulu can only follow the modified word or phrase, e.g., Ua ʻike au i ka moa nui i holo ma ke alanui).

English Parts of Speech Table with Approximate Equivalents in Hawaiian

Below is a table in which I list the approximate equivalent of the terms we use in Hawaiian to identify the form or function of a word, with the parts of speech in standard English grammar. This is followed by several brief explanatory footnotes.

Please note that the main reason we need to use Hawaiian terms in a Hawaiian structure to describe Hawaiian grammar is due to the fact that English grammar terms do not exactly match with Hawaiian usage or concepts. Therefore, use the following “equivalents” only as a starting point to find the appropriate area in which to continue your research.

English Parts of Speech Table with Approximate Equivalents in Hawaiian
English Hawaiian
Noun, Common Noun kikino
Proper Noun iʻoa
Pronoun papani
Adjective ʻaʻano1
Proper Adjective iʻoa1
Verb (transitive) hamani2
Verb (intransitive) hehele3
Verb (stative) ʻaʻano4
Linking Verb still thinking…
Helping Verb still thinking…
Adverb ʻaʻano1
Direct Object Phrase lauka5
Indirect Object Phrase lauka5
Preposition ʻami6
Prepositional Phrase ʻawe6
Agent ʻākena
Object ʻōkena
Subject Phrase piko painu7
Predicate Phrase poʻo painu8


  1. Almost any kikino, ʻaʻano, hamani, hehele, or iʻoa can be used as a reasonable adjective or adverb in Hawaiian.
  2. Transitive verbs (hamani) are verbs where the action is done by something to something else. That is, by the agent and to the direct object in more technical terms. Example:
    Jack throws the ball
  3. Intransitive verbs (hehele) are verbs where the action is done by something and that action does not directly affect something else. That is, the action is not done to something else; therefore we would say that an intransitive verb has no direct object. Example:
    Jack runs to school
  4. The term “stative verb” is used for ʻaʻano words in the Pukui-Elbert Hawaiian Dictionary using the identifier “vs”. By contrast, “intransitive verb” is “vi”, and “transitive verb” is “vt”.
  5. There is no distinction (grammatically) between direct and indirect object phrases in Hawaiian.
  6. Prepositions do not work the same way in Hawaiian as they do in English. Some prepositions may be single ʻami words (eg., with, on, upon, to, at, from, for, by); others require short constructions which consist of an ʻami plus other words to form the first part of an ʻawe (eg., above, over, on, around, to the left, outside, into, through, beside, under, behind, among, between). Some may require other constructions (eg., across, near, around).
  7. I use the terms “subject” and “predicate” here in reference to “action sentences” which are classed as pepeke painu in Hawaiian. Thus the doer of the action (the subject) is the piko, and the action itself (the predicate or verb phrase) is the poʻo.
  8. The term “predicate” in modern English grammar is in the process of being redefined by scholars. See this article at Wikipedia to learn more. In this context, I am using the word “predicate” to simply refer to the verb phrase alone (i.e., not including the object phrase). Example:
    Jack runs quickly to school

Pane mai

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