How do you pronounce Ukulele, anyway? And once you learn, how do you not feel pretentious saying it?

Before I started listening to and playing uke, I never questioned the name of the tiny guitar instrument.  It was clearly pronounced yoo-ka-lay-lee.  That’s what everyone called it and based on the way ukulele is spelled, it seemed right.  It wasn’t until I started watching videos of people teaching and playing the instrument that I realized I had been mispronouncing the word all these years.  The correct Hawaiian pronunciation is oo-koo-lay-lay. That also means that shortening ukulele to uke (yuke) doesn’t make sense (I often shorten the word to uku (oo-koo), but that’s just personal preference).

According to, the Hawaiian alphabet consists of the same 5 vowels as english – a,e,i,o,u – but with only 7 consonants – h,k,l,m,n,p, and w.  In Hawaiian, the vowels are pronounced: ah (a), eh (e), ee (i), oh (o), oo (u) and the easiest way to pronounce a Hawaiian word is to break it down into syllables A-lo-ha, or in our case u-ku-le-le.

Now that you know how to pronounce ukulele, what happens when somebody asks about your awesome yoo-ka-lay-lee?  Do you correct them?  Subtly use the correct pronunciation when you respond?  Sheepishly mispronounce the word even though you know the correct way to say it?  I suppose it depends on the situation. I’ve found that most people that are curious about my instruments are also curious about the ukulele’s history and how to say the word, so if I have the time, I let the pronunciation start a conversation.  If I don’t have time to chat, I use the Americanized version.  Neither pronunciation is really wrong, but I like honoring the history of our favorite small instrument so I default to the traditional pronunciation.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This