0403R How To Write The ʻOkina

Learn how glottal stops are represented in Hawaiian

The Hawaiian ʻokina character indicates a “glottal stop” (like the break in the middle of the English word “uh-oh”). In this lesson, you will learn how to write the ʻokina and compare it to other characters such as the backtick / ` /, apostrophe / ’ /, and prime characters / ′ / which look very similar at first glance.


Background information on the ʻokina

You should watch 0403V Pronunciation #3: The Glottal Stop to get a complete introduction to the concept of a glottal stop in Hawaiian if you are not already familiar with it.

To practice pronouncing the ʻokina, as well as to learn about how it is a “significant letter” in Hawaiian and where it should and should not be written, please refer to the practice lesson 0403P Pronunciation Practice For The ʻOkina.

If you should be interested in an in-depth analysis of glottal stops and their use around the world in both written and spoken language, please read the Wikipedia article on the topic.

The history of writing glottal stops in Hawaiian

Prior to the 1970s, it was rare to actually write the glottal stop character, since competent speakers of Hawaiian can very easily tell where ʻokina come in words, much in the same way that an Australian or Cockney Engish language speaker would still pronounce “cat” with a glottal stop in place of the /t/ and an American English speaker would normally still replace the middle of the word “button” with a glottal stop despite the fact that the glottal has no explicit representation in either of these cases.

In the mid-1900s, long before personal computers and Unicode character sets, the apostrophe character was sometimes used to indicate an ʻokina. In the days of the 1800s Hawaiian language newspapers, the glottal stop was sometimes indicated by either the apostrophe or by the use of a dash/hypen character. The images below show some examples. The reason for this seemingly unpredictable display of the ʻokina as an actual character is that its use was solely to remove any potential ambiguity of meaning: for example, “koʻu” (my) and “kou” (your) would look exactly the same if it were not for the intervening glottal character. Furthermore, no character had been officially conceived to represent the glottal stop at that time.

Newspaper Clipping
an image showing a small section of an old Hawaiian newspaper

Transcription of Original

E hoomaopopo i ko lakou ulu ana.
7. Pehea ka ulu ana o na kamalii, a me ka ulu ana o na mea kanu?
Ua ulu hoi mamuli o ka mehana o ka la, ke kehau a me ka ua, ka ai a me [k]a i-a

Modernized Version

E hoʻomaopopo i ko lākou ulu ʻana.
7. Pehea ka ulu ʻana o nā kamaliʻi, a me ka ulu ʻana o nā mea kanu?
Ua ulu hoʻi ma muli o ka mehana o ka lā, ke kēhau a me ka ua, ka ʻai a me ka iʻa


Let us remember how they grew.
7. How did children grow, and how did plants grow?
They grew due to the warmth of the sun, the dew and the rain, taro and fish.*

* The idea of “taro and fish” (ka ʻai a me ka iʻa) is used here to mean “starches and proteins” in the broadest sense. It is an ancient expression which gave rise to the modern local Hawaiian idea of “you get your fish and poi”, or the minimum essential food one needs including any vegetable and/or seafood or animal meat available. This concept is perhaps tangentially related to the English expression “it’s your bread and butter”, meaning your basic and essential income.

Source: “Ka Ulu Ana Iloko o Karisto” (Growth within Christ)
Ka Puka La Oiaio, Honolulu, Feb 24 1896

Newspaper Clipping
an image showing a small section of an old Hawaiian newspaper

Transcription of Original

…waiho ana mamua ona, alaila, kulou hoomaikai aku la oia i ka poe a pau, a hoopuka ae la i keia mau olelo mahope nei, ma ka olelo Iapana, me ka wiwo ole, me ke kuihe ole a me ka haalulu ole; a penei na olelo ana: “Na’u, a na’u wale no i hoopuka [i] ke kauoha, e kipu aku i na haole ma Kope, me ka loaa ole o ka mana mai a hai mai e hana pela. A ua kipu aku no hoi au ia lakou, mahope iho, ia lakou e hoao ai e holo. A no kuu ae ana i kuu hewa nui, me keia hana pono ole, nolaila, ano la, e hoomaka aku ana au e oki a kuai i ko’u opu, a e noi aku hoi ia oukou e ku mai nei, e haawi mai ia’u i ka hanohano, ma ka lilo ana i mau hoike no ko’u (sic) hana ana [i] ia mea.”

Modernized Version

… waiho ʻana ma mua ona, a laila, kūlou hoʻomaikaʻi akula ʻo ia i ka poʻe a pau, a hoʻopuka aʻela i kēia mau ʻōlelo ma hope nei, ma ka ʻōlelo Iapana, me ka wiwo ʻole, me ke kuʻihē ʻole, a me ka haʻalulu ʻole. A penei nā ʻōlelo āna: “Naʻu, a naʻu wale nō i hoʻopuka i ke kauoha, e kī pū aku i nā haole ma Kope, me ka loaʻa ʻole o ka mana maiā haʻi mai e hana pēlā. A ua kī pū aku nō hoʻi au iā lākou, ma hope iho, iā lākou e hoʻāʻo ai e holo. A no kuʻu ʻae ʻana i kuʻu hewa nui, me kēia hana pono ʻole, no laila, ʻānō lā, e hoʻomaka ana au e ʻoki a kuaʻi i koʻu ʻōpū, a e noi aku hoʻi iā ʻoukou e kū mai nei, e hāʻawi mai iaʻu i ka hanohano, ma ka lilo ʻana i mau hōʻike no kaʻu hana ʻana i ia mea.”


… left before him, then he bowed respectfully before all of the people and spoke the following words, in Japanese, without fear, without hesitation, and without agitation. And this is what he said: “It was I, and I alone who gave the order to shoot the white foreigners at Kobe, without having authorization from any other to do so. And I indeed shot them, even afterwards as they tried to run away. And because I have accepted my wrongdoing and this terrible deed as my own, therefore at this very time, I am going to begin to cut and expose my guts, and I am going to ask all of you gathered here to honor me, as you will be the testaments for my doing what I did.”

Source: “Ke Karikari ma Iapana” (“Karikari” in Japan)
Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, Honolulu, May 27 1871

Note that the apostrophe and dash/hyphen characters were also used for other purposes: the apostrophe to indicate a dropped letter (as in English); the hyphen to represent either a joining together of word parts (as in English) or a macron (kahakō in Hawaiian). These latter uses are not the focus of this lesson, however.

Writing the ʻokina by hand

Today, we use a special character to indicate the glottal stop consonant: it looks like a single open-quotation mark. So when you write one, be sure to start from the top part and come down in a very small arc to the left. If you want to be fancy, you can embolden the lower part of the body to create a mini solid “six” shape.

an image of handwritten hawaiian text
An example of handwritten Hawaiian text from a first-year student (above).

Typed representations of the ʻokina glottal stop

a picture of hawaiian written by a computer
a picture of hawaiian written by a computer
a picture of hawaiian written by a computer

Caption: Courier New Regular (top), Times New Roman Regular (middle), Party LET (bottom)

Note that many fonts do not contain the necessary characters for all letters, numbers, and symbols. For example, the Party LET font at the bottom does not contain the prime characters.

Typing ʻokina and kahakō on a computer

All Macs, Windows PCs, iOS, iPadOS, and Android devices have come with a Hawaiian keyboard and Hawaiian fonts for many years now. All you have to do is to activate them. We have some upcoming articles on ʻŌlelo Online which will teach you how to activate the Hawaiian keyboards on those devices and which fonts work well with ʻokina and kahakō.

Practice writing!

You should try and write the following sentences by hand to get used to writing the ʻokina yourself.

  1. Aia ka ʻukulele ma ke ʻeke. (the ʻukulele is in the bag)
  2. Noho ka ʻelemakule ma Maunaʻala. (the old man lives at Maunaʻala)
  3. ʻŌlelo ke kaikuaʻana i ke kaikaina ma ka ʻōlelo hoʻomākeʻaka. (the older sibling speaks to his younger sibling with words that make him laugh)
  4. Lele nā koaʻe ma ka pali kiʻekiʻe o Hāmākua. (the koaʻe birds fly by the tall cliffs of Hāmākua)

Pane mai

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