Colors in Spanish

Common colors act like regular adjectives, but others may not

Guanajuato colors
Los colores de Guanajuato, México. (The colors of Guanajuato, Mexico.).

www.infinitahighway.com.br / Getty Images

Like other adjectives, names of the common colors when used in Spanish must agree with the nouns they describe in both gender and number. However, names of some of the more unusual colors are treated differently in Spanish than they are in English. Also, in most cases, names of colors come after the nouns they describe, not before as in English.

  • Names for the basic colors in Spanish behave the same way as other descriptive adjectives do. They come after the noun they refer to and must match it in number and gender.
  • Less common colors can be formed by using de color, color de, or simply color followed by the name of the color.
  • If a noun such as cereza (cherry) or naranja (orange) is used as a color by itself, many speakers do not modify it for number or gender.

Names of Common Colors

Here are some common colors:

  • amarillo — yellow
  • anaranjado — orange
  • azul — blue
  • blanco — white
  • dorado — golden
  • gris — gray
  • marrón — brown
  • negro — black
  • púrpura — purple
  • rojo — red
  • rosado — pink
  • verde — green

Note that the form changes depending on the number and gender of what's being described: Tengo un coche amarillo. (I have one yellow car.) Tiene dos coches amarillos. (He has two yellow cars.) Tienes una flor amarilla. (You have a yellow flower.) Tenemos diez flores amarillas. (We have ten yellow flowers.)

Colors in English and Spanish don't always match up exactly. "Brown," in particular, can also be expressed by castaño, moreno, or pardo, depending on the shade and what is being described. Morado also is commonly used for "purple."

The Grammar of Color in Spanish

The most common colors are used in the same way as other adjectives. However, almost any suitable noun can be used as the name for a color, in at least four different ways. Here are four ways, for example, that you could say "cherry-colored car." (A car is un coche, and a cherry is una cereza.)

  • coche cereza
  • coche color de cereza
  • coche de color cereza
  • coche color cereza

Similarly, a coffee-colored shirt could be camisa de color café, camisa color de café, camisa color café, and camisa café.

The choice will depend on the region and speaker. Nouns that are frequently used as color (such as cereza or café) are more likely to be used alone.

Here are some nouns that are commonly used in this way as colors, although numerous others can be used:

  • beige, beis — beige
  • cereza — cherry-colored
  • chocolate — chocolate-colored
  • esmerelda — emerald
  • grana — dark red
  • humo — smoky
  • lila — lilac
  • malva — mauve
  • mostaza — mustard-colored
  • naranja — orange
  • oro — gold
  • paja — straw-colored
  • rosa — pink
  • turquesa — turquoise
  • violeta — violet

When a noun is used by itself in such a way, it is often still treated as a noun rather than an adjective, so it doesn't change form as adjectives typically do. (Some grammarians consider nouns used in this way to be invariable adjectives, that is, adjectives that don't change for number or gender). Thus "mustard-colored houses" would be casas mostaza rather than casas mostazas (although the latter is also used).

The more often a noun is used as a color, the more likely it is to be treated as a regular adjective, that is, one that changes in number with the noun being described. Often, different speakers won't always agree. Thus, the coffee-colored shirts may be described as camisas café or camisas cafés, again depending on the speaker.

Compound Colors

The most common words for "light" and "dark" in colors such as "light-blue" and "dark blue" are claro and oscuro, respectively. The claro and oscuro are used to form compound colors such as azul claro and azul oscuro.

The compound colors are invariable, meaning they don't change with number or gender.

Sample Sentences Showing Color Usage

Casi la mitad de los estadounidenses tenían ojos azules. (Almost half of U.S. residents have blue eyes.)

La sangre puede tener un color rojo brillante o casi negruzco dependiendo del nivel de oxígeno. (Blood can have a brilliant red color or almost blackish, depending on the oxygen level.)

Está rodeado por uvas color de ajenjo. (It is surrounded by absinthe-colored grapes.)

Te presentamos los diferentes estilos de uñas color de vino. (We're showing you the different styles of wine-colored fingernails.)

Las hortalizas de hojas verde oscuro son fuentes importantes de carotenos. (Vegetables with dark-green leaves are important sources of carotenes.)