What Is a Lei? – Meaning & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

When you think of Hawaii, what’s one of the first things that pop into your mind? It’s the traditional Hawaiian garland known as a lei, isn’t it? Leis are an integral part of Hawaiian culture and are usually given as a gift or worn on special occasions.

But is it capitalized? How do you use it in a sentence? I’ll explain where they came from and how you should spell them when writing.

What Is a Lei?

What Is a Lei Meaning Examples

A lei is a beautiful garland or type of wreath usually made of flowers, leaves, shells, etc. It’s typically worn around the neck or draped over your shoulders, and it symbolizes affection, respect, or honor.

Leis can be worn for weddings, graduations, funerals, or welcoming visitors. While it originated with the Hawaiian culture, we use leis all over the world today, especially in Polynesia and the Philippines.

Lei also has a secondary meaning as the plural form of leu, which is a unit of currency in Romania.

Is Lei a Word?

Yes, lei is definitely a word. It’s a Hawaiian word, but we adopted it into English and kept it the same. It also has varying meanings in different languages. In Hawaiian, lei is garland or wreath, but in Portuguese, it means law or legal code. Cool, right?

Is It a Hawaiian Lay or Lei?

In my days as a line editor in publishing, I’ve seen some people confuse the word lei with lay. But let me tell you right now; they’re not the same thing, not by a long shot.

I’ve already explained what a lei is. But the word “lay” in English can be both a verb and a noun. As a noun, it means the typical appearance of some kind of landscape: “lay of the land.” But as a verb, it means to set something down or to rest on top of something.

What’s the Plural of Lei?

The plural of lei is leis, pronounced as lays. Although, the Hawaiian culture doesn’t recognize plurals, so for them, the plural of lei is lei!

Origin and Etymology of Lei

The creation of beautiful flower lei goes back thousands of years. The goddess Kuku’ena brought seeds to the Hawaiian islands specifically for lei-making and traditional medicine.

It was later used in special events and ceremonies–specifically the lei draping ceremonies–by essential figures like King Kamehameha, known for politically uniting the Hawaiian islands.

Examples of Using the Word Lei in a Sentence

What Is a Lei Meaning Examples 2
  • I received a beautiful lei made of orchids and plumerias at my graduation ceremony, and I still have it today, dried and set in a glass box.
  • For our wedding, we greeted our guests with fresh flower leis as they arrived at the airport.
  • Marlene wore a fragrant lei of pikake flowers around her neck at the luau.
  • We watched as the bride and groom exchanged leis as a symbol of their love and commitment.
  • I enjoyed watching the Hawaiian dance, where the hula dancers adorned their wrists and ankles with shell leis during the performance.

You Lay a Lei Around Your Neck

While it’s stated that anyone can wear a lei on any day, you have to do so with respect. And just remember, it’s “lei” as in l-e-i, not “lay” if you’re talking about the beautiful flower garland.