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The tropical island of Kauai is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful and lesser-visited destinations. With its lush green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and pristine beaches, it’s no wonder people are curious to know the correct spelling of this Hawaiian paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Kauai is correctly spelled with no extra i’s or a’s – just K-a-u-a-i.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the common misspellings of Kauai and detail the reasons behind the correct Hawaiian spelling to help you get it right every time when referring to the Garden Isle.

Common Incorrect Spellings of Kauai


One of the most common misspellings of the Hawaiian island of Kauai is to double the “i” at the end, spelling it as “Kauaii”. This incorrect variant likely arises from a misunderstanding of Hawaiian language spelling rules or simply a typo.

However, standard English rules apply for Kauai, so only one “i” is correct.


Some writers mistakenly insert an apostrophe before the final “i” in Kauai, spelling it as “Kauai’i”. This is incorrect – there is no apostrophe in the standard spelling. The root of this error may be an assumption that Hawaiian words take apostrophes similar to the ʻokina in words like Hawaiʻi.

However, this is not the case for Kauai.


The spelling “Ka’uai” stands out as a particularly unusual misspelling. It suggests substituting the original first two letters “Ka” in place of “Kau”. It also inserts an apostrophe similar to the ʻokina in proper Hawaiian words.

However, Kauai is an exception that does not take an ʻokina or other special characters in English spelling.

To remember the proper spelling, it may help to recall that Kauai retains the English spelling of explorer Captain James Cook’s phonetic interpretation. So trust in the original spelling for this exceptional Hawaiian island name.

Breaking Down the Correct Spelling of Kauai

Origins of the Name Kauai

The island of Kauai, located in the Hawaiian archipelago, has an intriguing history behind its name. According to Hawaiian legends, the island was named after the ancient Polynesian navigator Kauai, who is said to have discovered the island many centuries ago during his voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

The commonly accepted spelling today is “Kauai”, though variations like “Kaua’i” and “Kaʻui” have been used in the past. The inclusion of the ‘okina (ʻ) is meant to denote a glottal stop between two vowels, while the kahakō (macron line) indicates a long vowel sound.

So where does the spelling “Kauai” actually come from? According to the Kauai Visitors Bureau, it was Captain James Cook who first put the island’s name to paper during his expedition to Hawaii in 1778. His rendering is said to have stuck and evolved into the “Kauai” spelling over time.

Correct Placement of Vowels and Consonants

When breaking down the spelling of “Kauai”, we have:

  • K – Represents a voiceless velar plosive consonant sound, pronounced like a “c” in cat.
  • a – Denotes a short “a” vowel sound, as in father.
  • u – Signals a short “oo” vowel sound, like in foot.
  • a – Same short “a” vowel again.
  • i – Represents a short “i” vowel sound, pronounced like the “i” in hit.

So phonetically, “Kauai” is pronounced as KOW-eye. The double vowel simply serves to elongate the “ow” syllable in the middle. This differs from related spellings like “Kaua’i” where the ‘okina denotes a break between the two vowel sounds.

According to the 2010 US census, Kauai county has a population of around 67,000 people, making it the least populous county in Hawaii. But the island draws in over 1.4 million visitors every year with its breathtaking scenery of lush green cliffs, hidden waterfalls and pristine beaches.

How to Pronounce Kauai

Pronouncing Kauai, the fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands, can be tricky for visitors unaccustomed to Hawaiian words and names. But have no fear, with a few quick tips you’ll be pronouncing it like a pro in no time!

The correct pronunciation is:“ka-WHY-ee”. Here’s a breakdown of the pronunciation:

  • “ka” – sounds like the beginning of the word “car”
  • “WHY” – say the word “why”, but emphasize and extend the “wh” sound
  • “ee” – sounds like the long letter e (“ea” as in “tea”)

So put it together, and you’ve got the lovely tropical island name of “ka-WHY-ee”. The emphasis is on the middle syllable, so be sure to stress the “WHY”.

Some common mispronunciations from visitors are “COW-ee”, rhyming with “cow”, or “KAH-oo-EYE”. But now that you know the inside scoop on the right way to say it, you can share your wisdom with fellow travelers!

The origin of the name Kauai also gives a clue for how it should be pronounced. In the native Hawaiian language, most words and names include vowels. So knowing that this island name derives from an old Polynesian dialect helps explain the vowel-heavy pronunciation.

So on your next trip to the Aloha State, you’ll be an expert at saying the island name correctly. Have fun exploring all there is to do in beautiful “ka-WHY-ee”!

When to Use Diacritical Marks in Kauai


The okina (‘) symbol in Hawaiian words indicates a glottal stop, which is similar to the sound between the syllables of “uh-oh.” On Kauai, the okina is used in words like Waime‘a and Kapa‘a to note the break in syllable.

According to the authoritative Hawaiian Lexicon Committee, the okina should be used to clarify pronunciation and avoid ambiguity. For example, the place name Ka‘ū is distinguished from the word kau meaning “to place upon.” Proper noun place names in Kauai that take the okina include:

  • Hanale‘i
  • Ka‘ū
  • Kōloa
  • Mā‘ili

So when writing about Kauai locations, be sure to include the okina where expected to help readers pronounce the names correctly.


The kahakō symbol ( macron line “-“) in Hawaiian indicates a long vowel sound. On Kauai, it’s used in words like Kā‘anapali and Kōloa to denote an extended “ah” or “oh” vowel.

According to the authoritative Hawaiian Lexicon website, the kahakō helps distinguish between words that would otherwise be identical. For example, pā (with the long vowel) means “touch” while pa (short vowel) translates to “wall or fence.”

Some Kauai place names that properly take the kahakō include:

  • Kōke‘e
  • Kā‘anapali
  • Līhu‘e

So when writing Kauai location names or describing sites around the island, be diligent in indicating long Hawaiian vowels with the kahakō. This helps preserve the language and culture while directing visitors how to correctly pronounce the unique names.

Following Hawaiian spelling conventions shows respect for Kauai’s history. It also enhances writing accuracy when describing this scenic Hawaiian island.


Although it contains only six letters, Kauai is commonly misspelled. By understanding the origins and meanings behind its spelling, you can now spell this Hawaiian island correctly every time.

Whether you’re writing about your upcoming trip to Kauai or describing its natural landscapes, keeping these simple spelling rules in mind will ensure you accurately convey the Garden Isle’s name. Now that you know how to correctly spell it, the only thing left is to experience Kauai’s tropical paradise for yourself!

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