French Language Blog

Rainbows Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Vocabulary

Spring is still many weeks away . . . at least up here in the hémisphère nord (northern hemisphere) and in the midst of un janvier froid et gris (a cold and grey January), I know we can all use a little taste of spring to get us through. En plus (And), last week’s post with its bikini rouge et jaune à petits pois (red and yellow polka dot bikini) got me thinking about all the colors of un arc-en-ciel (lit. an arc in the sky . . . or a rainbow).

Un arc-en-ciel au dessus d’une église à Morbihan en France. / A rainbow over a church in Morbihan, France. (By Stéphanie De Nadaï (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Les couleurs de l’arc-en-ciel sont (The colors of the rainbow are)
/ red
/ orange
/ yellow
/ green
bleu / blue*
indigo / indigo
violet / violet (or purple)

(Do you know the common mnemonic device for remembering the colors of the rainbow [in English, at least]? Roy G. Biv.)

noir et blanc (black and white) are not – scientifically speaking – colors, but they’re certainly useful words to know.

As are:
marron / brown
/ grey
rose / pink*

Les couleurs peuvent être (Colors can be)
clair / light
foncé / dark
vif / bright
pâle / pale

It is important to remember that colors are also adjectives. Most, like other adjectives in French, need to agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify . . . but it would be too easy if they all did! As is often the case, there are exceptions. As a general rule:
simple colors must agree (une voiture grise / a grey car; des livres rouges / red books; une souris verte / a green mouse)
compound colors do not agree (des chaussures bleu pâle / light blue shoes; des crayons jaune citron / lemon yellow pencils)
colors that are also nouns, do not agree (une chemise marron / a brown shirt; des chaises orange / orange chairs)

This site is a handy reference (and lists lots and lots of additional colors if you ever need them!).

Here are two videos you can use to practice what you’ve learned today. They’re both, comment dire? (how do you say?), interesting!

* I have to give a shout-out to my fellow blogger Josh D. for his excellent and detailed review of all the shades of green, blue, and pink.


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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.