What were the first words you learned in Spanish?
Colors are usually right up there on the top of the list.
It’s not hard to see why—color words are essential for lots of tasks, from writing creatively and understanding poetry, to indicating objects and expressing likes and dislikes.
Without color words, how would you begin to understand songs like Juanes’s “La Camisa Negra” (The Black Shirt) or Pablo Neruda’s poem “Oda a la flor azul” (Ode to the blue flower)?
You’d probably also run into trouble searching for the “Casa Rosada” (Pink House) in Buenos Aires or shopping for pimientos verdes (green peppers) in a supermarket!
This article will give a full overview of how to correctly incorporate the Spanish color words into your Spanish speech. Read on and you’ll find a pronunciation guide and glossary, as well as a list of common phrases that use color words.
The Spanish Rainbow! Learn 37 Vibrant Spanish Color Words, Phrases and Idioms
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How to Use the Spanish Color Words as Adjectives
Like in English, the colors in Spanish can function both as nouns and adjectives. As nouns, all of the colors are singular and masculine. For example, “blue” is el azul.
When we use the color words as adjectives (when saying something like “the blue car,” for example), things get a little more tricky. Not up to speed on Spanish adjective usage? Here’s a great guide. Once you’re caught up there, here are some tips on how to correctly use colors as adjectives in Spanish.
1. Pay attention to word order.
Like the vast majority of Spanish adjectives, the color words go after the noun that they describe. For example, to say “the blue car,” you would say el coche azul—which literally translates to “the car blue.”
2. Watch out for number and gender.
When using the color words as adjectives, you must make the colors agree with the number and gender of the noun.
In Spanish, every noun has a number (singular or plural) and a gender (masculine or feminine). You can tell if a noun is masculine or feminine, and if it’s singular or plural, by looking at the article that comes before it. As a refresher:
- El is used for singular, masculine nouns.
- La is used for singular, feminine nouns.
- Los is used for plural, masculine nouns.
- Las is used for plural, feminine nouns.
So, el sofá (the sofa) is a singular, masculine noun. Las actrices (the actresses) is a plural, feminine noun.
As with all Spanish adjectives, you must make sure that you make the color words agree with the noun they describe.
Let’s start with gender. Some of the Spanish color words change their spelling depending on if they refer to a masculine or feminine noun. Generally, this involves switching the final letter from an o to an a. For example, el libro rojo (the red book) uses the masculine form, rojo. On the other hand, la toalla roja (the red towel) uses the feminine form.
Other color words don’t change their spelling. Generally, any color word that doesn’t end in an o won’t change its spelling. Some examples are verde (green), azul (blue) and naranja (orange). The full list of the color words below notes which ones do and don’t change depending on gender.
Dealing with singular and plural is much easier. If the noun you’re referring to is plural, simply add an s or es to the end of the color word. You add an s if the color ends in a vowel, and es if the color ends in a consonant. For example, el bolígrafo azul (the blue pen) is singular, and los bolígrafos azules (the blue pens) is plural.
3. The Spanish language has two different verbs that mean “to be”: ser and estar.
When describing what color something is, such as in a sentence like “the phone is black,” you almost always use the verb ser.
El teléfono es negro. (The phone is black.)
Las botellas son amarillas. (The bottles are yellow.)
Remember that you have to make the color word agree with the number and gender of the noun, because it’s still functioning as an adjective!
The verb estar (to be) generally refers to temporary states of being. There are rare cases in which you might need to use estar to describe the color of something.
Here’s an example: The sky is fundamentally blue. To express this in Spanish, you would use the verb ser: El cielo es azul (The sky is blue). However, if you wanted to say that today the sky is gray because of an impending rainstorm, you could use the verb estar: El cielo está gris (The sky is gray).
4. Hang on to this shortcut!
Are the number and gender rules tripping you up?
They’re important and worth learning—but until you get the hang of this, feel free to use this shortcut. You can simply say that something is de color _______ (The color _______). With this construction, you’ll always use the masculine, singular version of the color—regardless of the noun!
Las camisetas son de color rosa. (The shirts are the color pink.)
The Colors in Spanish
Here are some of the most common color words in Spanish.
Words that change with gender:
- rojo/roja (red)
- anaranjado/anaranjada (orange)
- amarillo/amarilla (yellow)
- morado/morada (purple)
- rosado/rosada (pink)
- negro/negra (black)
- blanco/blanca (white)
- dorado/dorada (gold) — Note that this isn’t the same word as gold, the metal—that’s oro.
- plateado/plateada (silver) — Again, there’s a different word for the metal silver—plata.
- colorido/colorida (colorful)
- claro/clara (light)
- oscuro/oscura (dark)
Words that don’t change with gender:
- naranja (orange)
- verde (green)
- azul (blue)
- lila (purple)
- violeta (purple)
- rosa (pink)
- gris (gray)
- marrón (brown)
- turquesa (turquoise)
- magenta (magenta)
- granate (maroon)
The words claro (light) and oscuro (dark) can be used to talk about specific hues of colors. You can use these two words on their own, or you can use them after another color word.
Él tiene los ojos claros. (He has light eyes.)
Mi coche es azul claro. (My car is light blue.)
El cielo está muy oscuro. ¿Va a llover? (The sky is very dark. Is it going to rain?)
Mis pantalones son de color verde oscuro. (My pants are dark green.)
Color Words Used for Human Attributes
Sometimes, we need different color words to talk about human features. In English, you generally wouldn’t describe someone has having “yellow hair” unless you were trying to sound poetic (or if they had dyed yellow hair). Instead, you would say that they had “blonde hair.”
The same thing happens in Spanish with several color words used specifically to refer to humans. Here are a few examples.
Meaning: Blonde or light-featured
La chica tiene el pelo rubio. (The girl has blonde hair.)
Mi hermano es rubio. (My brother is blonde/light-featured.)
Meaning: Brunette or dark-featured
Mi madre es morena y mi padre es rubio. (My mom is brunette/dark, and my father is blonde/fair).
If you use moreno or morena with the verbs estar (to be) or ponerse (to become), it can also mean suntanned.
¡Estás muy morena! ¿Has estado en la playa? (You’re very tan! Have you been on the beach?)
Meaning: Used in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world instead of marrón to describe brown eyes or hair
Él tiene los ojos castaños y el pelo castaño. (He has brown eyes and brown hair)
Meaning: Used to describe someone with red or ginger hair
Emma Stone es pelirroja. (Emma Stone is a redhead.)
Meaning: Used to describe gray hair, similar to the word canas (gray hairs)
Él tiene 70 años, y tiene el pelo canoso. (He’s 70 years old, and he has gray hair).
Common Spanish Phrases Using Colors
Meaning: To blush
The reflexive verb ponerse has many meanings, and here it means “to become.” In this case, “to become red” means to blush.
¡Te estás poniendo rojo! (You’re blushing!)
Meaning: An adult/raunchy joke
A chiste verde (green joke) refers to the kind of joke that you’d never tell around your parents, kids, coworkers and so on. Namely, it’s a dirty joke or a joke with suggestive connotations.
Él siempre cuenta chistes verdes. (He always tells dirty jokes.)
Chiste verde isn’t the only colorful phrase related to humor. There’s also humor negro (what we call “dark humor” or “black humor” in English), and its opposite, humor blanco (innocent, lighthearted or family-friendly humor).
Meaning: To be a pessimist about something
When you “see it black” in Spanish, it means you’re seeing something with a negative outlook.
Veo el futuro negro. (I feel hopeless about the future.)
Estar sin blanca
Meaning: To not have money
When you’re “without white” in Spanish, you don’t have a single penny to spend. Supposedly, the expression comes from a coin called a blanca that existed in Spain in the 14th century.
Quiero ir al concierto contigo, pero estoy sin blanca. (I want to go to the concert with you, but I don’t have any money.)
Meaning: To eat a lot
How do you “turn yourself purple” in Spanish? Well, just like Violet in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”—by eating a lot!
Ponerse morado uses the same reflexive verb as ponerse rojo, but in this case it refers to stuffing your face to the point of explosion.
Me puse morado en la cena anoche. ¡Había tanta comida rica! (I stuffed my face at the dinner last night. There was so much delicious food!)
Meaning: Ideal man
Someone’s príncipe azul (blue prince) is their perfect, fairy tale man. Similar English expressions are “prince charming” and “knight in shining armor.”
Sigo esperando a mi príncipe azul. (I’m still waiting for my prince charming.)
Verlo todo color de rosa
Meaning: To see everything in a positive light
This phrase is quite similar to the English phrase “see things through rose-colored glasses.” The two phrases even use the same color word! This is the opposite of verlo todo negro.
Tú siempre lo ves todo de color de rosa. (You always see everything in a positive light.)
Prensa amarilla/prensa rosa
Meaning: Tabloids, trashy news sources, celebrity gossip
Both of these colored phrases refer to news sources that are… less than legitimate. However, their meanings vary slightly. Prensa amarilla refers to exaggerated, over-the-top news (think: The New York Daily News), while prensa rosa refers specifically to celebrity gossip (think: People Magazine).
No hagas caso a la prensa amarilla. (Don’t pay attention to the tabloid news.)
En la prensa rosa escriben cosas sobre las vidas de los famosos. (In the celebrity gossip papers, they write things about the lives of famous people.)
Meaning: Significant other
What does it mean to be someone’s half-orange in Spanish? Well, it means to be someone’s “other half,” significant other or sweetheart! Keep in mind that this naranja refers to the fruit that’s called by its color name.
Por fin he encontrado a mi media naranja. (I’ve finally found my other half.)
The Spanish colors are simple to learn and use, once you get the hang of the rules.
And they really do change your ability to express yourself in Spanish, whether it be in a supermarket or in a poetry workshop.
So, go forth and add color to your Spanish, and to the world around you!
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