French Words for Colors
Which Colors Should I Learn?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of colors that we have names for in English, and French is no different. Blue, dark blue, light blue, navy blue, cyan, sky blue -- they are all different, but where should you start? Some people suggest starting with one color at a time, such as blue, and learning all the variations of it. However, I have found that this method is not as immediately useful, and while it may build a more expansive vocabulary in the end, it does not produce usable results nearly as quickly. I recommend starting with the basic colors of the rainbow, and adding white, black, gray, and brown, as those are just as common, but no more, because if you try to learn too many at once, you will end up getting confused.
The Basic Colors
Here is a list of the 10 basic colors in French, along with their English equivalents:
red -- rouge
orange -- orange
yellow -- jaune
green -- vert(e)
blue -- bleu(e)
purple -- violet(te)
black -- noir(e)
white -- blanc(he)
grey -- gris(e)
brown -- marron
You will notice that certain colors have addtional letters in parenthesis. As with most adjectives in French, you must change the colors if they are describing a feminine noun, and those changes are found in parenthesis. Violet and blanc are irregular, becoming violette and blanche, and certain colors, those without any additional letters, stay the same no matter the gender of their noun.
How to Remember Colors
Sometimes simple vocabulary such as colors can be more difficult to remember than other vocabulary. One trick that I find useful, especially with adjectives, is to remember the color as it describes something. For example, if you can remember "un chat blanc" and picture a white cat, it is easy to remember. Of course, remembering a blue chicken is not going to help, so try to use combinations that you will likely see in real life. Here are a few suggestions:
un pomme rouge -- a red apple
un orange orange -- an orange orange
le soleil jaune -- yellow sunlight
l'herbe verte -- green grass
le ciel bleu -- the blue sky
une robe violette -- a purple dress
un style noir -- a black pen
un chat blanc -- a white cat
un chien gris -- a grey dog
un arbre marron -- a brown tree
Once you have the basics down, it's time to learn more advanced colors. There are hundreds of different colors, and learning them all individually would be an impossible task. But like English, French uses real life examples to describe the various colors. For example, there is yellow, and there is lemon yellow. There is brown, and there is chocolate brown. You can do the same thing in French. Simply add the describing noun after the name of the base color, and you have the new color. Our two examples:
lemon yellow -- jaune citron
chocolate brown -- marron chocolat
You can do this with a large number of different nouns, almost any combination you can think of. And luckily, even if you use a combination that is not used in French, they will still understand you, as long as you have chosen something with a distinctive color.