Colors in Japanese – How to Use Japanese Color Words
In Japanese, the words for specific colors are used differently depending on their parts of speech. Having two sets – one set is the Japanese – the other being a katakana loan word version of their English counterparts – i.e. Blue as buru.
This can be very confusing for beginners in Japanese as to what context is appropriate to use which version.
Also, these are words that will appear on the JLPT N5 and N4 levels. So if you are planning on taking the JLPT at some point, you may find this useful!
In this article, we will explain to you how to describe objects with colors in Japanese.
Nouns for Basic Colors in Japanese
These words above are nouns that refer to different colors. As a result, the particle “の(no)” is used when describing the color of something. If you are not familiar with particles in Japanese, we recommend you to take a look at our Basic Japanese Grammar Guide
The basic sentence pattern for describing colors is :
color + の + subject
Midori no madoguchi
Green Window(usually referring to the ticket office at a train station in Japan)
Murasaki no kutsushita
Japanese Adjectives to Describe Colors
Color can also be described using adjectives. Surprisingly, there are only 4 colors that will become an adjective when “い” is added directly to the back.
Why are these colors so special? It is because these were the basic forms of color in ancient Japanese language. Every color was broadly categorized under and these 4 colors back then. (Sounds quite rough, isn’t it?)
Example of How to Use Japanese Colors:
Use directly in front of the subject
The sea is blue.
“黄色い” and “茶色い”
There are 2 more colors that can become adjective -黄色 and茶色. Why did I not put them together with the 4 colors above? This is because although meaning yellow and brown color, “黄” and “茶” cannot be on themselves when used as colors.
They have to be put together with the word “色 (iro colors) to become nouns for yellow and brown. As a result, when they become adjectives, they are “黄色い” and “茶色い” instead “黄い” or “茶い”
How to Say Other Colors In Japanese
If you feel that the basic colors are too general, here are some Japanese words for more specific colors.