uku·​le·​le ˌyü-kə-ˈlā-lē How to pronounce ukulele (audio)
variants or less commonly ukelele
: a small guitar of Portuguese origin popularized in Hawaii in the 1880s and strung typically with four strings

Illustration of ukulele

Illustration of ukulele

Examples of ukulele in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web To an outsider, the areas of West Maui that escaped the fire’s path remain paradisiacal—a fact that's easily seen while strolling Kaanapali Beach, snorkeling among sea turtles, or listening to a ukulele and slack-key guitar on the sandy terrace at Hulu Grill in Whalers Village. Crai S. Bower, Condé Nast Traveler, 2 Feb. 2024 After a couple of near misses, ukuleles were what eventually brought Lisa Snow and Kevin Lilly together. Jeff Vorva, Chicago Tribune, 26 Jan. 2024 Classes are offered in classical instruments (piano, violin, cello) as well as traditional music (ukulele and an ancestral style of singing called Re o Riu). Mark Johanson, Travel + Leisure, 19 Jan. 2024 After filling his glass, our new friend, framed by the sun setting over his shoulder, proceeded to serenade our camp with covers and traditional ukulele numbers like a Renaissance bard. Ed Fletcher, Sacramento Bee, 25 Jan. 2024 Colleen Ballinger’s ukulele apology video Colleen Ballinger played a ukulele in her apology video. Kalhan Rosenblatt, NBC News, 15 Dec. 2023 After a day of hula lessons, lei making, strumming ukuleles, nature walks, swimming like a mermaid, and collecting Montage Merit Badges with the Paintbox children’s program, kids can chow down on Hawaiian cuisine, go stargazing, and fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Lindsay Cohn, Travel + Leisure, 2 Dec. 2023 The rooms even come with a sketchbook and ukulele for guests who want to channel their inner artist during their stay. Jacqueline Dole, Travel + Leisure, 14 Nov. 2023 Ballinger posted an apology – while playing the ukulele – after she was accused of inappropriate conduct around minors. Caitlin O'Kane, CBS News, 6 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ukulele.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Hawaiian ʽukulele, from ʽuku flea + lele jumping

First Known Use

1896, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ukulele was in 1896

Dictionary Entries Near ukulele

Cite this Entry

“Ukulele.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a usually four-stringed small guitar popularized in Hawaii

from Hawaiian ʽukulele "ukulele," literally, "jumping flea," from ʽuku "flea" + lele "jumping"

Word Origin
In the 19th century, a former British army officer named Edward Purvis lived in Hawaii as an official at the royal court. Purvis is said to have been given the Hawaiian nickname of ʽukulele, which means "jumping flea," because he was small and lively. In 1879 Portuguese immigrants arrived in the Hawaiian Islands. They brought several of their native instruments, among them a small four-stringed guitar. Purvis liked this new instrument. He quickly learned to play it. In time the small guitar became a favorite, and it took the nickname of the man who had made it popular.

More from Merriam-Webster on ukulele

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!