French Phrases: Colour modifiers in French

On the previous page, we saw the names of basic colours in French. On this page we look at how more intricate colour names are formed in French. A number of devices similar to English are used:

  • A modifier, equivalent to dark, light etc in English, may be used;
  • Two basic colour names (cf blue-green, or a basic colour name plus a noun (cf cherry red), may be combined;
  • In a similar way to the English word coloured, the French word couleur can be used with a noun to denote 'the colour of the object denoted by that noun' (cf English coffee-coloured etc).

Colour modifiers (dark, light) in French

The following are commonly used to modify colour adjectives in French:

clairklɛʁlight
foncéfõsedark
pâlepalpale
uniyniplain (UK), solid (US)
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For example:

il a les yeux bleu clair-he has light blue eyes
une robe vert foncé-a dark green dress
une chemise jaune uni-a plain yellow shirt
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Why is it not yeux bleus clairs etc?

Note that when the colour adjective is modified, the convention is for the colour adjective (and modifier) to appear in its 'bare' form1.

Compound colour names

In general, complex colour names can be formed in a similar way to English, by combining two colour adjectives (bleu vert) or by combining an adjective plus noun (in that order: gris ardoise = slate grey). Many colour names thus translate literally. Here are some common combinations:

bleu cielbløsjɛlsky blue
bleu marineblømaʁinnavy blue
bleu roibløʁwaroyal blue
bleu turquoisebløtyʁkwazturquoise blue
bleu vertbløvɛʁblue-green
gris ardoisegʁiaʁdwazslate grey
gris perlegʁipɛʁlpearl grey
rouge ceriseʁuʒsəʁizcherry-red
rouge sangʁuʒsɑ̃blood-red
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Saying ...-colour(ed) in French

In English, many nouns can be suffixed with the word colour or coloured as in flesh-coloured. The French equivalent is to use the expression couleur (de) ..., as in:

une jupe couleur rose-a rose-coloured skirt
une robe (de) couleur chair-a flesh-coloured dress
une chemise couleur café-a coffee-coloured shirt
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Note:
1. I have not found a grammar that disagrees with this convention or indeed a descriptive grammar denying that it occurs in practice. However, judging by the number of instances on the Internet of expressions such as feuilles vertes foncées, it is possible that this situation is changing at least in informal use.


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Page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright (c) Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.