Italian Language Blog

Quanti Colori! Posted by on Aug 29, 2011 in Italian Language

Bianco, rosso, blu, giallo, verde, arancio, marrone, rosa, nero … White, red, blue, yellow, green, orange, brown, pink, black … There are so many colours! However they never seem to describe the reality that is all around us. Artists use very specific names to describe the colours that they use, e.g. rosso carminio e rosso cardinale (carmine red and cardinal red) or giallo ocra e giallo di cromo (yellow ochre and chrome yellow). But us common mortals are more likely to use nouns to help us better define colours, for example: bianco panna (creamy white), verde oliva  (olive green), rosa salmone (salmon pink), grigio antracite (anthracite grey), blu notte (midnight blue), rosso bandiera (flag red, equivalent to pillar-box red), and so on.

We try and describe the intensity of the colour by adding an adjective, e.g.: rosso acceso (bright red), verde spento (dull green), blu scuro (dark blue), grigio pallido (pale grey), giallo carico (deep/rich yellow). We also manipulate the name of the colour by adding a suffix which helps to give it a particular nuance. If we are talking about a delicate pale colour, we use the suffix –ino, which normally means “small, or  little”, e.g.:

ho comprato un giacchetto marroncino – I bought a pale brown cardigan

Annalisa ha dipinto la parete di giallino – Annalisa painted the wall in a pale yellow

Che bello quello scialle verdino! – How beautiful that light green shawl is!

The suffix –one, on the other hand, means ‘big’, and is used to describe a deep dark colour, but it’s not used very much. We mostly use it with verde (green) and arancio (orange), i.e.:

mi piace molto quel maglione verdone – I really like that dark green jumper

questa pietra ha un bel colore arancione – this stone has a beautiful deep orange colour


If we want to describe a not very well defined colour we use either the suffix –astro or the suffix –ognolo (equivalent to the English suffix –ish). For example:

in città normalmente la neve diventa grigiastra dopo qualche ora – the snow in the town normally turns greyish after a few hours

questa bibita ha un colore verdastro che non mi ispira – this drink has a greenish colour which doesn’t inspire me

le montagne all’orizzonte appaiono azzurrognole – the mountains on the horizon seem bluish

Giovanni non sta bene, ha un colorito giallognolo – Giovanni is not well, he’s got a yellowish complexion


Finally, we have nereggiante (turning black), biancheggiante (turning white), rosseggiante (turning red), and verdeggiante (turning green), e.g.:

il cielo all’orizzonte è nereggiante – the sky on the horizon is turning black

il mare è biancheggiante con la spuma delle onde – the sea is turning white from the foam of the waves

È il tramonto, e il sole è rosseggiante – it’s sunset, and the sun is turning red

dopo la pioggia l’erba è tutta verdeggiante – after the rain the grass is all turning green

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  1. Jeannet:

    Quanti assisti!

  2. Victoria Strauss:

    This explains many of those hard to translate words.

  3. Victoria Strauss:

    This explains some of those words I can never find in the dictionary.

  4. Tina:

    Grazie Serena! Non sapevo come descrivere i colori con piu dettagli cosi. Grazie!

    • Serena:

      @Tina Ciao Tina, non c’è di che! 🙂

      A presto, Serena

  5. andreas:

    Salve, Serena
    Grazie per il blog. Ma c’è qui un piccolo errore. ‘Anthrax’ è un morbo molto grave, forse volevi dire ‘anthracite’.

    • Serena:

      @andreas Grazie tante Andreas, l’ho corretto 🙂

      a presto, Serena

  6. Edoardo:

    Salve Serena, adesso ho capito questa generazioni dei nomi dei colori.
    Grazie tante.

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