20 Color Idioms in English

Like any language learner, you’re probably aiming to sound more like a native speaker.

Learn to express yourself with color idioms for a whole rainbow of rich English vocabulary!

These idioms are used a lot, so you’ll sound more natural than ever.


Common English Color Idioms to Liven Up Your Vocabulary

Idioms are expressions that cannot be taken literally (exactly). They are metaphorical. For example, if a person is “green with envy,” their bodies aren’t the color of a lizard—it’s just a phrase. It means that they’re jealous. 

Here are a few of the most popular color idioms in US English:

White Idioms

“To wave a white flag”

color idioms

Meaning:  To show that you’ve lost (a game, challenge or war) and you give up.

Waving a white flag actually dates back to wartime. When one army was losing and they were afraid of losing more men, they waved a white piece of material in the air to show they wanted to stop fighting.

Usage: While I was arguing with my mom about the party I waved a white flag. There was no point in arguing. She wasn’t going to change her mind.

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“As white as a ghost”

color idioms

Meaning: To describe a person’s face being very pale (white) because they’re shocked or scared.

Usage: My friend turned as white as a ghost when she realized there was a stranger standing at her bedroom window.

“To tell a white lie”

color idioms

Meaning: To tell a small lie that doesn’t hurt another person.

Usage: We had to tell our mom a white lie about the money. We couldn’t let her know we’d spent it all on chocolate.

Black Idioms

“As black as coal”

color idioms

Meaning: To be very black. Coal is a small piece of carbon used to burn on fires.

Usage: There were many clouds last night and the sky was as black as coal.

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“Black and blue”

color idioms

Meaning: Very beaten up and bruised. Bruised is when you have dark blue or black marks on your body from hitting an object hard or being hit by another person.

Usage: After John lost the wrestling match, he was black and blue. The other guy was very strong.

“Black eye”

color idioms

Meaning: When the area around your eye looks very black because it has been hit.

Usage: When Mel fell down and hit her face on her brother’s toy truck, she got a black eye.

“Black market”

color idioms

Meaning: The area where illegal things such as drugs and guns are bought and sold.

Usage: People who can’t buy a gun legally with a permit usually can buy one on the black market.

“Black sheep of the family”

color idioms

Meaning: A person who is different (usually in a negative way) from the rest of the other family members.

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Usage: Al is the only one in his family who hasn’t gone to college. He’s the only one who doesn’t have a proper job. He’s considered the black sheep of the family.

“Black tie event”

color idioms

Meaning: A formal event or party where men are expected to wear a black suit with a tie. Women are expected to wear long, formal dresses.

Usage: The Oscars is one of the world’s most famous black tie events.

Blue Idioms

“Feel blue”

color idioms

Meaning: To feel sad or depressed about something.

Usage: Can you call Sally and try and make her laugh? She’s feeling blue after Mike left.

“Blue blood”

color idioms

Meaning: If a person has blue blood, they come from a wealthy or royal family.

Usage: It’s no surprise he likes to go to the opera. He’s got blue blood.

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“Out of the blue”

color idioms

Meaning: Something happens unexpectedly (by surprise or without warning).

Usage: Mary just showed up at the house out of the blue yesterday. We thought she was still in Europe.

Red Idioms

“Catch someone red-handed”

color idioms

Meaning: To catch a person doing something they were not supposed to be doing.

Usage: We caught Jake and Julia red-handed. They were hugging and kissing even though they deny it (say it’s not true).

“To paint the town red”

color idioms

Meaning: To go out and have a good time partying.

Usage: Our exams are finished. Now it’s time to go out, celebrate and paint the town red.

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“A red flag”

color idioms

Meaning: A sign that something that is not right. A warning sign.

Usage: Even though there were red flags in the relationship, Alice ignored them. Now she’s getting a divorce.

“Red hot”

color idioms

Meaning: To be in high demand, something that everybody wants.

Usage: When iPhones first entered the market, they were red hot. Shops sold them all quickly, and people had to wait to buy their new phones.

“Red tape”

color idioms

Meaning: Too much formal paperwork to do something.

Usage: When people apply for a visa for another country, there’s usually a lot of red tape.

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“Roll out the red carpet”

color idioms

Meaning: To greet and welcome a person with a lot of respect and celebration.

This idiom comes from Hollywood! When actors and actresses turn up at a special event, they’re given special treatment, and they walk down the red carpet.

Usage: Simon is the favorite child. Every time he returns home to Australia, his parents roll out the red carpet for him.

Green Idioms

“Get the green light”color idioms

Meaning: To get the sign that it’s now okay to do something. To be given permission.

Usage: After two years of waiting, the Smith family was given the green light to build a house on their land.

(Cultural note: In many countries in the West, you have to get special building permission to build on your land. It can take a very long time sometimes.)

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”

color idioms

Meaning: The idea that things are always better in another place. Everything is better than a person’s current situation.

Usage: Many people still see America as the land of dreams. But what they don’t realize is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

“Green thumb”

color idioms

Meaning: Talent for gardening and working with plants.

Usage: My grandmother has a real green thumb. Every sunny day, she’s outside planting more flowers in her garden.

Why You Need to Know These Colorful Idioms

The key to speaking more like a native English speaker is to use and understand everyday English expressions.

There’s slang, and then there are idioms. Both are very fun ways to boost your English vocabulary and cultural knowledge

One of the most popular themes for idioms is color.

Color is used everywhere in the world to convey (give) meaning, and it symbolizes different things in different countries. In the US, the color of death and mourning is black, while in China it’s white. 

Quite often, a color is connected to a feeling or state of mind. Color is also used in expressions to brighten up our language and make it more interesting.

English is an extremely colorful language. It has many ways of expressing the same ideas, so having a diverse vocabulary is important.

You can continue to grow your colorful vocabulary by looking for words in English media, from your favorite English books to the videos on FluentU.

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The idioms above are just a few examples of our colorful language. When you begin to understand everyday idioms, you’re one step closer to sounding like a native speaker!

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