Colors in Japanese – How to Use Japanese Color Words

Posted by on July 26, 2019 – Japanese Study, Life in Japan

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.

In this article, we will explain to you how to describe the color of something in Japanese.

Nouns for Basic Colors

English Japanese Furigana Romaji
Red 赤/レッド あか Aka/Reddo
Orange 橙色/オレンジ だいだいいろ Daidaiiro/Orenji
Yellow 黄色/イエロー きいろ Kiiro/iero-
Green 緑/グリーン みどり Midori/Guri-n
Blue 青/ブルー あお Ao/Buru-
Purple 紫/パープル むらさき Murasaki/Pa-puru
Pink 桃色/ピンク ももいろ Momoiro/Pinku
Brown 茶色/ブラウン ちゃいろ Chairo/Buraun
Grey 灰色/グレイ はいいろ Haiiro/Gurei
Black 黒/ブラック くろ Kuro/Burakku
White 白/ホワイト しろ Shiro/Howaito

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. r 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 + + subject

E.g:

みどりの窓口(まどぐち)
Midori no madoguchi
Green Window(usually referring to the ticket office at a train station in Japan)

紫(むらさき)の靴下(くつした)
Murasaki no kutsushita
Purple socks.

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.

They are:

English Japanese Furigana Romaji
Red 赤い あかい Akai
Blue 青い あおい Aoi
Black 黒い くろい Kuroi
White 白い しろい Shiroi

 

 

 

 

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 it:

Use directly in front of the subject

あおい海(うみ)
Aoiumi
Bule sea

or

海(うみ)はあおいです。
Umiwa aoidesu
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”

Other colors

If you feel that the basic colors are too general, here are some Japanese words for more specific colors.

English Japanese Furigana Romaji
Silver 銀/シルバー ぎん Gin/Shiruba-
Gold 金/ゴールド きん Kin/Go-rudo
Rainbow clour 虹色 にじいろ Nijiiro
Light Blue 水色 みずいろ Mizuiro
Navy Blue 紺色/ネービー こんいろ Koniro/Nei-bi-
Purple 紫/パープル むらさき Murasaki/Pa-puru
Yellowish Green 黄緑 きみどり Kimidori
Beige ベージュ ベージュ Haiiro/Gurei

 

 

 

 

 

 

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