A Guide to Colours in French

Posted by Josh on 19th Feb 2024 in the blog in the learning french category

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When it comes to learning a language, the words for different colours are some of the most important words to add to your vocabulary. They can help embellish a description, differentiate between otherwise similar objects, and help add, well, colour to your conversations. They’re incredibly important, which is why we incorporate them into the Complete French Course as early as Lesson 7. But, as with all vocabulary, the more you know, the better.

There are countless shades of colours – the Pantone website lists well over 15,000 – but some of these are far more common than others. However, the commonness of certain words changes from language to language. For instance, you’ll find that while ‘charcoal’ is a common word in English, particularly if you enjoy browsing homeware catalogues, its equivalent in French (charbon) is used less often. And the same goes the other way round.

There’s no single, simple reason why this is the case. It can be due to historical reasons, such as the availability or unavailability of certain dyes or materials in certain places (colours inspired by wine such as bordeaux are unsurprisingly common in France), or something as simple as the fact that a particular colour word sounds better in one language than in the other. Regardless, we’ve decided to prioritise the words which are more common in French – meaning that you might also learn some new English words.

One last point. Remember that when you use a colour word as an adjective, the gender needs to match the noun with which you’re associating it. (For adjectives that change gender, we’ve included both). The exception is compound colours, such as ‘vert citron’, which are invariable, and therefore do not change gender to match the noun.

Red

Rouge Red
Cramoisi Crimson
Écarlate Scarlet
Bordeaux Dark red

Orange

Orange Orange
Brun/Marron Brown
Ambre Amber
Bronze Bronze
Fauve Fawn
Châtain Chestnut

Yellow

Jaune Yellow
Jaune moutarde Mustard
Doré Gold

Green

Vert/Verte Green
Vert citron Lime green
Vert pomme Apple green

Blue

Bleu Blue
Sarcelle Teal
Bleu marine Navy
Cian Cyan
Turquoise Turquoise

Purple

Violet/Violette Purple
Rose Pink
Lavande Lavander

Black

Noir Black
Ébène Ebony
Gris Grey

White

Blanc White
Argent Silver
Crème Cream
Céruse Old white
Écru Off-white

Light and dark

Clair/Claire Light
Foncé/Foncée Dark

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