Do you say Hanauma Bay correctly? 

Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

11 Words Hawaii Locals and Visitors Often Mispronounce

Words are hard, and here are a few that Hawaii locals and visitors find the hardest.

We all know that moment, when you say a word and everyone in the room gives you a weird look. “That’s not how you say Hawaii,” some of them might say, while laughter ensues. Face hot from embarrassment, you quietly curse the people in your life who were too polite or loved you too much to correct you, and think about all of the times you’ve said Hawaii as “hwai” and not “hu-wa-ee.” It’s OK, people make mistakes, and to make you feel better, here are a few words that visitors, and even some Island locals, are likely to mispronounce.

Three

A classic mispronunciation in the Islands. If you ask a child born and raised in Hawaii to count to five, you’ll almost always hear them say "tree," instead of three. Fortunately, it’s adorable when kids say it, and honestly, it’s pretty cute when adults say it too.

Likelike

While we’re on the topic of classic mispronunciations, Likelike is often referred to as "Like Like" by visitors. It’s understandable why this word is so often mispronounced this way, as GPS apps like Siri often end up telling you to go down Like Like Highway, and not "Lee-kay-Lee-kay."

Temperature

When the temperature in Hawaii is pretty much perfect, all the time, you don’t have to say the word a lot. You just say, “well today is nice, again.” But when you do hear the word uttered by Hawaii locals, you’ll probably hear it pronounced tempa-chur.

Wahiawa

Anyone who has lived on Oahu has almost definitely made this error, and it’s time to own up to our mistakes. It’s not "Wa-hee-wa," it’s "Wa-hee-a-wa." Sure, the first option can definitely be spoken faster, but you’re completely disregarding an entire letter—the second “a”—when pronounced this way. So give that “a” some love next time you’re talking about Wahiawa.

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa

Just looking at this word will cause your eyes to glaze over, and visitors have a tough time wrapping their tongues around this intricate Hawaiian word, which is actually the name of Hawaii’s state fish. Interestingly enough, this word can be pronounced correctly by most Hawaii residents and those who study the syllables: "Hoo-moo-hoo-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-poo-ah-ah." The Hawaiian name translates as the “fish with a nose like a pig.”

Ewa

Pronounced "Eh-va," as “w” is often replaced with the “v” noise in the Hawaiian language. Those unfamiliar with the Oahu district may call it "Ee-wa," which can hurt the ears of Ewa residents.

Char Siu

A staple Cantonese dish that has fortunately made its way to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the incorrect way of pronouncing char siu (with the audible “r”) has also become the norm in the Islands. If you want to impress your Cantonese friends, say it correctly without the “r” and draw out the “a”, as "chaaa shew."

Hanauma Bay

Kamaaina (longtime Hawaii residents) and visitors both get this one wrong. The popular bay is often spoken without the "u" in the middle as Han-ama bay or, sometimes, you'll hear the "u" overemphasized like Hana-uma bay. The correct pronunciation, since the Hawaiian word does not contain an okina, is actually "Ha-now-mah."

Lanai

If you’re talking about the island of Lanai, it’s pronounced "La-nah-ee." If you’re talking about a porch or veranda, the word can flow out ("lah-nai") without stops or pauses. Unfortunately, the pronunciations of these two words are not interchangeable, especially if you’re on Lanai.

Lychee

Technically speaking, both “lie-chee” and “lee-chee” are correct ways of pronouncing this exotic fruit, which originated in South China. However, if you’re in Hawaii, you’ll often hear it spoken as “lie-chee,” and the other option may warrant confused looks and overly dramatic gasps (just kidding, but it is weird here).

Karaoke

Unless you understand how to properly pronounce Japanese words—many Hawaii residents are familiar with how Japanese sounds because the culture has taken root in the Islands—karaoke might trip you up. While some call it “carry-okee,” the correct way to use the word is “ka-ra-o-ke,” with the “ra” being pronounced almost as “da.”