Words of Colors in Vietnamese Language Posted by on Mar 29, 2021 in Art, Culture, Vocabulary

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “colors” or màu in Vietnamese, the first thing that comes to my mind is the image of a cầu vòng (rainbow), along with the popular classic song Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Just like the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, not all colors are treated equally. Some colors may be your favorites, but not mine. Some colors are considered more “superior” than others and are reserved to be used by royalty in the past. Some colors are used on specific occasions, some are associated with certain genders, and some are used to convey special messages. In other words, colors have their own language and status in Vietnamese culture.


Let’s start with Vietnamese words for ten common colors and their general associated meanings:

Trắng White Purity, death
Đen Black Evil, filth, mystic, unlucky
Xám Grey solitude, loneliness, misery, quietness
Vàng Yellow Royalty, wealth, prosperity, success, honor, envy
Đỏ Red Happiness, luck, love, power, passion, energy
Xanh Blue Calmness, peace
Xanh lá cây Green Hope, progress
Nâu Brown Sincerity, peasantry, Buddhist outfit color
Hồng Pink Femininity
Tím Purple Nostalgia, romance, sadness, loyalty, royalty


There are complications when it comes to use the right word for certain colors in different contexts in advanced Vietnamese. Let me introduce you to the classic example of the application of màu đen (black color). In English, whether it is a dog, a cat, or a horse, if its fur color is black, then the term for them is black dog, black cat, black horse, and so forth. In Vietnamese, you should simply use the word đen for the color black but, to be more literal, you should use the correct “black” word as follows.

Simple Word Literal Word English
Chó đen Chó mực Black dog
Mèo đen Mèo mun Black cat
Ngựa đen Ngựa ô Black horse

Be careful when using the word màu xanh. This could mean different shades of blue or green color.

You have to add another word to màu xanh to avoid the confusion. See examples below.

Xanh + [dương] = Navy blue

Xanh + [chàm] = Indigo blue

Xanh + [lơ, lam, da trời] = Sky blue

Xanh + [lá cây, lục] = Green

Xanh + [rêu] = Moss green

Xanh + [bạc hà] = Mint green


The Vietnamese do pay attention to Fengshui elements to enhance their luck and harmony. Thus, they would pick an appropriate color, or avoid certain ones, to wear in clothing, for interior design, vehicles, etc. according to their birth element. See the table below for the harmony or conflict colors with your element. Tables can be found online to identify your birth element.

Birth Element Birth Element Colors Harmony Colors Colors to Avoid
Kim (Metal) Yellow, white, silver Earth element colors like yellow, brown Fire element colors like red, pink, purple
Mộc (Wood) Green Water element colors like navy blue, black Metal element colors like white, silver
Thủy (Water) Blue, black, jade green Metal and Wood element colors like blue, white, silver, black Earth and Fire element colors like red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, brown
Hỏa (Fire) Red, pink, purple, orange Wood element colors like green Water element colors like white, silver, black, blue
Thổ (Earth) Brown, yellow earth tone, orange earth tone Fire element colors like brown, red, pink, purple, orange Wood element colors like green, black, blue


  1. Đỏ (red)
  2. Cam (orange)
  3. Vàng (yellow)
  4. Lục (green)
  5. Lam (blue)
  6. Chàm (indigo)
  7. Tím (Violet)

Do you know what are the trending colors for 2021? Mr. Google told me they are màu xám (grey) and màu vàng (yellow). Yikes! Sorry, they are not my favorite colors. It made me think of the new dull grey McDonald’s exterior building color scheme in the Midwest.

What are your favorite colors? Màu nóng (warm tone colors) or màu lạnh (cool tone colors)?

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