Hawaiian syntax

Hi, I don't know if this was specified in another lesson or on another discussion, but I do not get Hawaiian syntax... Could someone explain me how a phrase is constructed? For example I got "He wahine puni hīmeni ʻo Kaʻiulani", which means "Ka'iulani is a woman who loves to sing" and I didn't understand why the verb was second... I'm thinking syntax is like in Latin where you can put a word basically everywhere as soon as you put a prefix or, in this case, a preposition? Thanks

September 20, 2019

1 Comment

Aloha mai e @JArgeles, this type of confusing will happen all the type coming from the perspective of european languages, so do not be discouraged! You will get it in time. The real thing here is that most other language groups (european predominantly) have words or word forms that are of a specific use ONLY. What I mean here is the word types: noun, verb, adjective, so on. The word "woman" for instance is a noun, it cannot be used as a verb, adjective, and so on unless the form changes. You cannot say "That is a woman bird." What is grammatically correct in Enlgish would be "That is a female bird." The word female is an adjective. You also cannot say "That magical fish womans during a full moon." You would have to say "That magical fish becomes a woman during a full moon."

The reason why I am emphasizing this about English and western languages is that Hawaiian allows the use of a single word without changing its form to be noun-like, verb-like, adjective-like and so on.


  • Holo kēlā lio. That horse runs.

  • He lio holo ʻo ia. It is a running horse.

  • Nani nō ka holo o kēlā lio. The gait of that horse is truly beautiful.

The distinction that Hawaiians use to be able to know which usage a word has in a sentence is based on word order within the sentence fragments. Also, context can guide the EXACT meaning that is being specified, as most hawaiian words have multiple meanings/uses.

To sum it up in your example.

  • "He wahine" ([A woman] noun-usage)

  • "puni" ([desire/love/enjoyment] noun-like) + "hīmeni" ([singing] adjective-like) = "puni hīmeni" ("singing love/desire/enjoyment"; adjective/qualifier-like)

  • "He wahine puni hīmeni" = "A singing desire/love woman." A better natural Enlgish translation for this; however, is "A woman who loves singing."

  • ʻO Kaʻiulani (Kaʻiulani, proper-noun indicated by the particle " ʻo "). If there is was no [ʻo] before Kaʻiulani. A hawaiian person would hear "Ka ʻiu lani" = The heavenly sacred place. Then the sentence would be translated to "The heavenly sacred place is a woman who loves to sing." lol.

  • Since this sentence is an equational sentence pattern and A=B. "He wahine puni hīmeni" = "ʻo Kaʻiulani". In Enlgish, translates to " Kaʻiulani is a woman who loves to sing.

All in all, this was a loaded question that you asked to be able to answer properly! Hope this helps you though!! Goodluck.

September 24, 2019
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