20 Words and Expressions to Add Some Color to Your Italian Conversations
“I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians.” — Elton John
It’s no shock that Elton John—and so many others—fall in love with Italy and sing its many praises.
Everything about Italy, including its culture, people and history, is undeniably amazing.
But have you wondered why Italy is so noteworthy?
I know, and I’ll let you in on the secret—which can be summed up in a few short words: La vita è colorata! (Life is colorful!)
That’s right, life in Italy is vivid and wonderfully colorful. Everything from the food (think about the robust red of a simmering pot of marinara sauce) to the landscape in colore vivace (in vivid color).
Even the language itself is vibrant. Descriptions and even common phrases can be very expressive.
It’s not hard to bring color to your own Italian language practice with words and expressions taken straight from bell’Italia (beautiful Italy).
The Grammar of Italian Colors
It’s simple to color up your Italian practice! We’ll revisit a few grammar rules and you’ll be all set!
Remember that color words are adjectives, so they’re used to describe or clarify nouns. In Italian, adjectives usually follow the nouns they modify.
Italian adjectives must agree with the gender—masculine or feminine—state of the noun they describe. Colors are no exception!
For instance, take a look at these two examples:
la scarpa rossa (the red shoe)
un cane rosso (a red dog)
The first noun, “shoe,” is feminine in Italian while the second, “dog,” is masculine. Notice how the adjective changes its ending based on the noun it’s modifying.
Finally, Italian adjectives also agree with the noun in number—singular or plural:
un cane rosso (a red dog) → cani rossi (red dogs)
Masculine adjectives end in -o and change their ending to -i in their plural form. Feminine adjectives end in -a and become plural by changing the ending to -e.
As always, there are exceptions to these rules. There are a few colors (blu, viola, rosa, indaco) that don’t change in gender or number.
Mi piace leggere i romanzi rosa. (I like to read romance novels.)
Compro le scarpe blu. (I’m buying blue shoes.)
12 Colors in Italian and 8 Playful Expressions That Use Them
Learning colors in any language can be tough but there’s a way to minimize that challenge. Just think of i colori dell’arcobaleno (the colors of the rainbow).
One way to remember colors is through a mnemonic technique.
Take the first letter of each word to memorize the order of the colors in a rainbow.
VIBVGAR is the Italian take on this little trick.
When I break it up into Vib V Gar it almost seems like a character’s name—cue the mental picture of a colorful unicorn!—so the sequence pops instantly into my head. I know it’s silly but it works for me; hopefully it’ll work for you, too.
12 Essential Italian Colors
Using Vib V Gar, I can name and describe my imaginary unicorn in vivid detail—and in rainbow color sequence:
Gli occhi viola sono adorabili. (The violet eyes are lovely.)
Le sue orecchie indaco sono bellissimi. (Her indigo ears are beautiful.)
Nuvole blu la circondano. (Blue clouds surround her.)
L’erba verde cresce sotto di lei. (Green grass grows beneath her.)
Le sue ali gialle sbattano. (Her yellow wings flutter.)
Il suo corno arancione è lucido. (Her orange horn is shiny.)
La sua pelliccia rossa è bellissima. (Her red fur is beautiful.)
You’ve probably noticed that indaco (indigo) has its own word. Even though it technically means dark blue, it’s used more commonly than blu scuro (dark blue).
Let’s not forget that there are some “extras” in the world of color that aren’t part of the rainbow. Here are a few:
La notte è così nera. (The night is so black.)
L’orso marrone è enorme. (The brown bear is huge.)
Mi piace il rosa. (I like pink.)
Le colombe bianche sono per i matrimoni. (White doves are for weddings.)
Azzurro—Light blue, blue
La squadra indossa l’azzurro. (The team wears light blue.)
A special note about azzurro, the color that’s so very important in Italy.
Azzurro is a shade of light blue that’s so well-loved it’s actually the Italian national color. The national football (that is, soccer) team is named Gli Azzurri (The Blues) because of their blue jerseys. And a wildly popular song is titled Azzurro.
Colors can be described or clarified, as well. Chiaro (light) and scuro (dark) indicate the shade of a particular color, like Verde scuro (dark green).
8 Colorful Italian Expressions
Now it’s time to learn some fun Italian expressions that can definitely add to your language skills. The’re common in Italian songs, literature and movies so you may have already heard some of them!
Il principe azzurro (light blue prince)
While this romantic phrase literally means “light blue prince,” it’s not used to describe a blue royal.
It does, however, imply that a man is someone special—a Prince Charming!
Il suo ragazzo è davvero un principe azzurro! (Her boyfriend is a real Prince Charming!)
Essere nero (to be black)
The literal translation, to be black, refers to a mood. The expression is commonly used to describe someone when they’re upset or angry.
Non prestare attenzione a lui. È nero. (Don’t pay attention to him. He’s in a bad mood.)
Una mosca bianca (a white fly)
Common houseflies are black so when something or someone is called una mosca bianca (a white fly) it means that they’re unique.
While most of us wouldn’t think that being called an insect is a good thing, in this case it’s a real compliment!
La moglie di Enzo è una mosca bianca. (Enzo’s wife is exceptional.)
La pecora nera (the black sheep)
This expression is familiar in many languages.
Loosely translated, this common idiom refers to a family member who’s unlike the others. It can imply rebelliousness or a desire to do things in a less-than-typically-desired manner. The connotation is generally unfavorable.
It sounds especially melodious in Italian, doesn’t it?
Joe è la nostra pecora nera. (Joe is our black sheep [of the family].)
Farne di tutti i colori (to be up to all sorts of things; mischief)
In this case, “colorful” refers to doing all sorts of things. Think of shooting the breeze with your friends or kids hanging out.
Loro continuano a farne di tutti i colori. (They continue to be up to all sorts of things.)
Essere in rosso (to be in red)
Being “in the red” isn’t an expression used only by Italians. It means to be short on money.
Il mio portafoglio è vuoto. Sono in rosso! (My wallet is empty. I am in the red!)
Anima nera (black soul)
Whether or not you believe in souls, this is a way of saying that someone is wicked.
È un uomo cattivo con un’anima nera. (He’s a bad man with a wicked soul.)
Dama bianca (white lady)
This phrase is another word for fantasma (ghost). Specifically, dama bianca is referred to as an eerie “vision” that’s said to foretell death.
Sta’attento! Ho sognato dellla dama bianca ieri sera! (Be careful! I dreamt about the white lady last night!)
L’amore è cieco. (Love is blind.)
Love may be blind but life in Italy is molto colorata (very colorful).
As you can see, Italian is a language that can describe everything so vividly that it comes to life. That goes for imaginary rainbow unicorns, too!
Now that you’re familiar with colors and how to use them, you should be able to paint pictures with your words.
Those vivid, color-inspired expressions will go a long way toward making your Italian conversations extraordinary so use them often!
Buona fortuna! (Good luck!)