Hawaiian grammar


Hawaiian is a predominantly verb–subject–object language. One exception is if the sentence has a negative mood and the subject is a pronoun, in which case word order is subject–verb–object instead (e.g. aole oia e puka ana, "not he [future] graduate [single event]", "he won't graduate"). Another exception is that if there is an emphatic adverbial phrase at the start of the sentence, a pronoun subject precedes the verb. Word order is flexible, and the emphatic word can be placed first in the sentence. Hawaiian largely avoids subordinate clauses, and often uses a possessive construction instead.

Within the noun phrase, adjectives follow the noun (e.g. ka hale liilii "the house small", "the small house"), while possessors precede it (e.g. kou hale "your house"). Numerals precede the noun in the absence of the definite article, but follow the noun if the noun is preceded by the definite article
Definite Article
Definite Article is the title of British comedian Eddie Izzard's 1996 performance released on VHS. It was recorded on different nights at the Shaftesbury Theatre...


Hawaiian, like English, is a non-pro-drop language
Pro-drop language
A pro-drop language is a language in which certain classes of pronouns may be omitted when they are in some sense pragmatically inferable...

. Nonetheless, there is an exception with commands, where the use of subject pronouns is optional. In these cases, the subject pronoun is seldom used if the context deems it unnecessary, as in e hele i ke kula "[imperfective] go to the school", "go to school"; here, the subject "you" is understood, and can be omitted.

Yes-no question
Yes-no question
In linguistics, a yes–no question, formally known as a polar question, is a question whose expected answer is either "yes" or "no". Formally, they present an exclusive disjunction, a pair of alternatives of which only one is acceptable. In English, such questions can be formed in both positive...

s can be unmarked and expressed by intonation
Intonation (linguistics)
In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation does distinguish words. Intonation, rhythm, and stress are the three main elements of linguistic prosody...

, or they can be marked by placing anei after the leading word of the sentence. Examples of question-word questions are He aha kēia? "A what this?", "What is this?" and 'O wai kou inoa "[subject] who your name?", "What is your name?"

The typical detailed word order is given by the following, with most items optional:
Tense/aspect signs: i, ua, e, etc. Verb Qualifying adverb: mau, wale, ole, pu, etc. Passive sign: 'ia Verbal directives: aku, mai, etc. Locatives nei or , or particles ana or ai Strengthening particle: no Subject Object or predicate noun

See also Hawaiian Language: Syntax and other resources.


In Hawaiian, there is no grammatical gender. The word for third person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

 (he, she, it) is ia. It is commonly preceded by o as in o ia but should always be written as two words, never as one.

Number and articles

In Hawaiian, the noun does not change form to determine the number. Rather, the article
Article (grammar)
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

 changes to determine the number.

Generally, the singular definite articles are ke when the noun begins with the letter k, e, a, or o and ka when the noun begins with any other letter. The plural definite article is . The singular indefinite article is he. Examples:
ka puke (the book) vs. nā puke (the books)

ke pākaukau (the table) vs. nā pākaukau (the tables)

He kanaka maikai ia. ('A-person-good-s/he.' S/He is a good person.)

To pluralize nouns marked with a possessive, add mau between the possessive and the noun.
kau mau puke (my books)

kona mau puke (his books)


Most Hawaiian nouns belong to one of two classes
Noun class
In linguistics, the term noun class refers to a system of categorizing nouns. A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, but counting a given noun among nouns of such or another class is often clearly conventional...

, known as the kino ʻō (o-class) and the kino ʻā (a-class). Classes are only taken into account when using the genitive case (see table of personal pronouns below).

Kino ʻō nouns, in general, are nouns whose creation cannot be controlled by the subject, such as inoa "name", puuwai "heart", and hale "house". Specific categories for o-class nouns include: modes of transportation (e.g. kaa "car" and lio "horse"), things that you can sit on or wear (e.g. noho "chair", eke "bag", and lole "clothes"), and people in your generation and previous generations (e.g. makuahine "mother").

Kino ʻā nouns, in general, are those whose creation can be controlled, such as waihooluu "color", as in kau waihooluu punahele "my favorite color". Specific categories include: your boyfriend
A boyfriend is a person's regular male companion in a romantic or sexual relationship, although normally not in long-term committed relationships, where other titles A boyfriend is a person's regular male companion in a romantic or sexual relationship, although normally not in long-term committed...

 or girlfriend
Girlfriend is a term that can refer to either a female partner in a non-marital romantic relationship or a female non-romantic friend that is closer than other friends....

 (ipo) and future generations in your line (all of your descendants, but not your siblings' descendants).

Demonstrative determiners

In linguistics, demonstratives are deictic words that indicate which entities a speaker refers to and distinguishes those entities from others...

close to speakerfar from speaker and listenerfar from speaker, close to listener
Singular kēia kēlā kēnā
Plural kēia mau kēlā mau kēnā mau

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns
Singular (1) Dual
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

1st2nd3rd 1st incl.
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we"...

1st excl.
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we"...

2nd3rd 1st incl.1st excl.2nd3rd
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

au oe ia kāua māua olua lāua kākou mākou oukou lākou
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

a-class kau kāu kāna kā kāua kā māua kā olua kā lāua kā kākou kā mākou kā oukou kā lākou
o-class kou kou kōna kō kāua kō māua kō olua kō lāua kō kākou kō mākou kō oukou kō lākou
affectionate kuu Only used in 1st and 2nd person singular.
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

iau iā oe iā ia iā kāua iā māua iā olua iā lāua iā kākou iā mākou iā oukou iā lākou

The a-class possessive pronouns refer to alienable possession, as with boats, children, clothing, and spouses. The o-class possessive pronouns refer to inalienable (incapable of being begun or ended) possession, as with parents and body parts.

Tense, aspect, and mood

Verbs can be analytically modified to indicate tense, aspect and mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

 as follows:
  • ua + verb: perfective aspect
    Perfective aspect
    The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

    , past tense
    Past tense
    The past tense is a grammatical tense that places an action or situation in the past of the current moment , or prior to some specified time that may be in the speaker's past, present, or future...

    ; or perfect tense/aspect (ua hana au "I worked", "I have worked"). Note that the pre-verbal marker ua is often omitted in speech.
  • ua + verb + e: pluperfect tense/aspect (ua hana e au "I had worked")
  • i + verb: past tense (i hana au "I worked"); or, perfect participle
    In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

     (i hana "having worked", "who had worked")
  • e + verb + ana: imperfective aspect
    Imperfective aspect
    The imperfective is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future...

     (e hana ana au "I was working", "I will be working")
  • ke + verb + nei: present tense
    Present tense
    The present tense is a grammatical tense that locates a situation or event in present time. This linguistic definition refers to a concept that indicates a feature of the meaning of a verb...

    , progressive aspect (ke hana nei au "I am working")
  • e + verb: future tense
    Future tense
    In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future , or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future .-Expressions of future tense:The concept of the future,...

    /mood (e hana au "I will work"); or, infinitive
    In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

     (e hana "to work"); or, imperative mood
    Imperative mood
    The imperative mood expresses commands or requests as a grammatical mood. These commands or requests urge the audience to act a certain way. It also may signal a prohibition, permission, or any other kind of exhortation.- Morphology :...

     (e hana oe "Work thou!")
  • mai + verb: negative imperative mood

Other verbal particles

Passive voice
Passive voice
Passive voice is a grammatical voice common in many of the world's languages. Passive is used in a clause whose subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb. That is, the subject undergoes an action or has its state changed. A sentence whose theme is marked as grammatical subject is...

 is indicated by the post-verbal auxiliary 'ia.

Other post-verbal markers include
  • verb + mai: "toward the speaker"
  • verb + aku: "away from the speaker"
  • verb + iho: "down"
  • verb + a'e: "up", "adjacent"
  • stative verb + + agent: agent marker

Causative verb creation

Causative verbs can be created from nouns and adjectives by using the prefix ho'o-, as illustrated in the following:
  • nani "pretty"; ho'onani "to beautify"
  • nui "large"; ho'onui "to enlarge"
  • hui "club"; ho'ohui "to form a club"


Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word is repeated exactly or with a slight change....

can emphasize or otherwise alter the meaning of a word. Examples are:
  • 'au "to swim"; 'au'au "to bathe"
  • ha'i "to say"; ha'iha'i "to speak back and forth"
  • ma'i "sick"; ma'ima'i "chronically sick"
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