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French Phrases: Colours in French

On this page, we look at some common French colour adjectives. On the following page, we look at some common colour modifiers (light, dark etc) and how to combine colours or form complex colour terms ("blue-green", "navy blue" etc).

Common colour adjectives in French

The folllowing are common French colour adjectives. Where there is a pronunciation difference between masculine and feminine forms, both are shown in that order. In the written form, these adjectives generally behave like other French adjectives: an -e is added in the feminine (where not already there) and/or an -s in the plural. Exceptions are flagged and discussed in the corresponding notes below.

beigebɛʒbeige
blanc, blancheblɑ̃, blɑ̃ʃwhite
bleubløblue
brun, brunebʁæ̃, bʁynbrown
châtain, châtaineʃatæ̃, ʃatɛnbrown, chestnut-brown (hair)
gris, grisegʁi, gʁizgrey
jaunejonyellow
marron1maʁõbrown
mauvemovmauve, light purple
noirnwaʁblack
orange2oʁɑ̃ʒorange>
roseʁozpink
rougeʁuʒred
vert, vertevɛʁ, vɛʁtgreen
violet, violettevjɔle, vjɔlɛtviolet, purple
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Notes:
1. marron is identical in the feminine.
2. Prescriptively, orange is usually considered invariable. Since it already ends in -e, this just affects whether or not to add an -s in the plural, and prescriptive usage would thus dictate des robes orange. Actual usage is tending to write oranges (and to pluralise other "invariable" adjectives) in the plural. Note that this is purely a spelling issue: in pronunciation, this and most colours are invariable.

In French, colour adjectives almost always follow the noun that they describe. Thus:

une robe bleue-a blue dress
une chemise marron-a brown shirt
deux voitures vertes-two green cars
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Less common colours

The following words are also used to denote colour. In the majority of cases, they behave more like nouns than adjectives: they don't change in the feminine or plural1.

abricotabʁikoapricot
argentaʁʒɑ̃silver
bronzebʁõzbronze
cafékafecoffee-coloured
chamoisʃamwabuff
champagneʃɑ̃panjchampagne
châtaigneʃatɛngchestnut
crèmekʁɛmcream
écarlateekaʁlatscarlet
indigoæ̃digoindigo (blue)
jadeʒadjade
lilaslilalilac
noisettenwazɛthazel
oliveolivolive
orɔʁgold
paillepajstraw-coloured
pourprepuʁpʁcrimson
safransafʁɑ̃saffron
saumonsomõsalmon-pink
sépiasepjasepia
turquoisetyʁkwazturquoise
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Notes:
1. In prescriptive usage at least, it appears to be accepted (cf Thomas 1971:105; Price 2003:105) that specifically écarlate and pourpre are not invariable and so take -s in the plural. The reasoning behind this distinction is not entirely clear, since there is no possible pronunciation difference, and in writing there appears to be a general tendency towards pluralising "invariable" adjectives/nouns.


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Page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright (c) Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.