Russian Language Blog

Expand Your Palette – in Russian Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Colors are one of the first things you learn in any language. However, as you talk to native speakers or read authentic literature, you will start noticing that they are they are more diverse than the basic colors of the rainbow you learned.

The Basics

Colors of the rainbow go like this:


A mnemonic device to remember them in order is “Каждый охотник желает знать, где сидит фазан” (Every hunter wants to know where the pheasant sits). The first letter of every word is the first letter of the corresponding color. You will notice that there are two words for “blue” — more on that below.


The basic word for red is красный. However, it has numerous synonyms and shades. I will not attempt to give a comprehensive overview — here are a few frequently used descriptions. I will not be giving English translations because they often don’t line up with the Russian colors (e.g., crimson can be either малиновый or багровый, but these two are distinct shades in Russian).

малиновый – color of raspberries
Comes from: малина
Typical collocations:
малиновый пиджак – crimson jackets, stereotypically worn by the new Russians of the 90s as a status symbol

бордовый – a dull dark red
Origin: бордо (bordeaux, like the wine)

алый – color of arterial blood or bright fire
Origin: Turkic languages
Typical collocations:
аленький цветочекThe Scarlet Flower; a folk tale resembling The Beauty and The Beast.
алая заря said about the sunrise
лые парусаScarlet Sails; a book by Aleksandr Grin

багровый – color of venous blood, dark red with blue
Synonym: пурпурный
Typical collocations:
багровое лицо – said about someone’s face as they are…
багровый от гнева – purple with rage


Russian is famous for distinguishing between two — often mutually exclusive — shades of blueсиний for the darker shades and голубой for the lighter shades.

Typical collocations:
довести до синего каления (more often, до белого каления) – to enrage someone; literally make incandescent
гори оно синим пламенем – said when you give up on something; let it go up in (blue) flames
синий от холода – said about someone who looks blue because they are cold

Typical collocations:
голубая кровь – said about the nobility
голубые елиblue spruce
голубые глаза – said about blue eyes. Синие глаза is reserved for dark blue eyes.
The word голубые is used to talk about gay men.

Black and White

Typical collocations:
белый снег – snow
довести до белого каления – see довести до синего каления above
белая горячкаdelirium tremens

серый = чёрный + белый
Typical collocations:
серая зарплата – under the table pay
серый кардиналéminence grise, person of secret influence
серая мышь – said about mousy, inconspicuous, or plain-looking woman

Typical collocations:
чёрная дыра – black hole
чёрный рынок – black market

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Barry:

    Tu me pareces una persona muy interesante. Has hecho muchas cosas!
    Ich habe mehrere Jahren in Koeln gewohnt und bin geschieden von meine Deutsch Frau Birgit. Entschuldige fuer irgendwelche Fehler! Я изучаю русский течение приблизительно 18 месяцев! .. but normally use Google Translate (which I then check), when I write in E-mails. Selbst wenn nicht alles ganz korrekt ist, ist alles meistens verstaendlich 😉 Mein persoenliches e-mail ist: Ich suche keinen Partner aber Freunde kann Mann immer gebrauchen 😉 — ich bin auch in Facebook zu finden. Creo que podemos ambos practicar nuestras Linguas y cuando escribo in Espanol no utilizo Google Translate — quizas debo !

    • Maria:

      @Barry Thanks for your comment, Barry! For the benefit of our readers, I’ll answer in Russian.
      Вы настоящий полиглот. Успехов в изучении русского языка и заходите еще к нам в блог.

  2. David Roberts:

    Hola Maria!

    алый is also well known of course for Alla Pugacheva’s song Million alyx roz – I did a guest blog analysis of this song 2-3 years ago. The song is based on real life people around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries – although the story is probably exaggerated.

    • Maria:

      @David Roberts David, thank you for this addition! Yes, a very passionate color indeed.

  3. Jenya:

    Маша, замечательная статья!

    • Maria:

      @Jenya Спасибо, Женя! Даешь больше красок, хороших и разных!