0702V Papani Pronouns #1: Au, ʻOe, ʻO ia

Learning The Basics About Hawaiian Pronouns

In Hawaiian, we call the pronouns papani. In this lesson, you’ll learn the Hawaiian papani for “I”, “you”, “he”, and “she”.


Many students of Hawaiian language encounter trouble when first introduced to Hawaiian papani, since they differ somewhat from English language pronouns. That is not to say that Hawaiian papani are actually harder to learn than English pronouns; in fact the contrary is true if you consider having to learn English pronouns for the first time, especially as a second-language speaker of English, since there are just so many pronouns in English. (For more discussion on the large number of English pronouns, see this excellent article in Wikipedia.)

There are 11 basic papani to learn in Hawaiian. This lesson is the first of a set that will introduce you to all 11. We will start with the singular pronouns “I”, “you”, “he” and “she”, since they are perhaps the easiest.

Hawaiian Personal Pronouns
FirstIau (wau)
Thirdhe / sheʻo ia

The Pronunciation of “Au”

Note that for the first person singluar pronoun “I” we can opt to either use au or wau. Au is most likely the oldest form of this papani and is widely used in Eastern Polynesia (Tahiti being the exception). The papani “wau”, if you choose to use it, should be pronounced with a leading soft w-glide, /w/ sound, or soft /v/ sound, never a greatly aspirated /v/ sound like the one we often use in English where we allow a lot of air to escape the lips (eg. “very” or “vivacious”). I suggest that you pronounce it and write it as au even though there’s a case to be made that it’s harder to pronounce properly than wau.

You will not really be able to get a sense of how to pronounce au properly until you start putting it into phrases and, later, sentences. The most common problem I hear is students putting an ʻokina before it – so try your best to run it together with the word that preceedes it.

“ʻO ia” Is Written As Two Words

When we write he/she in a sentence, we write it as two separate words these days. Prior to the 1978 “Spelling Convention” in Honolulu which codified many of the spelling practices we use today, he/she was written as ” ʻoia ” or “oia” (without ʻokina). I will not explain the reason for the change in this lesson, but suffice it to say, it is done and there appears no going back. Of course, when you pronouce ʻo ia, you cannot tell if there is a space or not.

Next Steps

Following this lesson, you will need to learn about something very important indeed in Polynesian thinking: the concept of “inclusive” versus “exclusive” papani. So after you are done with this video, go on to the second video in this series, 0703V Papani Pronouns #2: Kāua and Māua, which will explain the concept.

aloha ʻoe

Video Outline

  1. Papani are pronouns
  2. There are 11 papani in Hawaiian
  3. These are the 3 easiest
  4. Au, ʻoe (I and you)
  5. ʻO ia (he or she); does not mean “it”
  6. Review
  7. Practice Haʻawina 0702H
  8. Next up

Length: 11 minutes

Video Links for V0702 Papani Part I

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