All the Pretty Colors: French Adjectives of Color

We know 'noir' for 'black,' but what about apricot, crimson, lime, and more?

French colors of the rainbow
French colors of the rainbow. Henrik Sorensen/Prestige/Getty Images

The French have long been in love with color, and they have many names for pure and nuanced color. Here are some of the most common French colors, plus color variations and other extras for anyone who loves color as much as the French do. There are, of course, many more French colors than we have listed here, especially in French fashion and in French beauty products like makeup and hair color. But this will give you a taste of French colors and the rules that govern their usage.

Let's start at the beginning with la couleur, which is a feminine noun, as in les couleurs primaires ("primary colors") and les couleurs complémentaires ("complementary colors"). The colors themselves are adjectives describing something, such as une jolie couleur verte ("a pretty shade of green").

The Rules of Color Agreement

Some colors (remember, they're adjectives) agree with the noun they modify; others don't. According to the rules of color agreement, colors based on the names of fruit, flowers, precious stones, metals, and other elements of nature are invariable ("invariable," do not change form), as are compound colors consisting of two or more colors (a blue green chair) or a color with an adjective of intensity (a dark blue chair). The remaining French colors agree with the nouns that they modify. Exceptionspourpre and violet ("purple"), mauve ("mauve"), rose ("pink"), écarlate ("scarlet red"), fauve ("fawn"), and incarnat ("crimson red"), which do agree with the number and gender of the noun they modify.

When in doubt, check a French dictionary, which will show both masculine and feminine forms of any color that changes in agreement with its noun or it will say adjectif invariable for any color that does not change, i.e., is invariable.

A Few Colors ('Couleurs')

  • Abricot > apricot
  • Ambre  > amber (dark orange yellow)
  • Argenté > silver 
  • Avocat > avocado
  • Beige > beige
  • Blanc or blanche > white; écru > off-white; céruse > old white; coquille d'oeuf > white with a touch of pinkish tan, like an egg; crème > cream; blanc d'Espagne > Spanish white, slightly cream; blanc cassé > broken white between crème and bis
  • Bleu > blue; bleu ardoise > slate blue; bleu canard > peacock blue; bleu ciel > sky blue; bleu marine > navy blue; bleu nuit > midnight blue; bleu outremer > ultramarine
  • Brun > brown, dark; brun cuivré > tawny; brun roux > auburn
  • Chocolat > chocolate brown
  • Doré > golden, golden brown, the color of gilt
  • Fauve > fawn (taupe, light grayish brown)
  • Gris > gray; fumée > smoke; cendre > ash; bis > soft grey
  • Jaune > yellow; jaune citron > lemon yellow; jaune coing > [bright] quince yellowjaune d'or > golden yellowjaune moutarde > mustard yellowjaune paille > straw yellowjaune canari > canary yellow; jaune poussin > chick yellow, bright yellow
  • Marron (horse chestnut) > brown; marron glacé > light chestnut brown; café au lait > light brown
  • Mauve > mauve
  • Multicolore > multicolored
  • Noir > black; ébène > ebony
  • Orange > orange 
  • Pourpre > purple
  • Rose > pink
  • Rouge > red; écarlate > scarlet; incarnat > crimson 
  • Transparent > transparent
  • Turquoise > turquoise
  • Vert > green; vert citron > lime green; vert sapin > pine green, forest green; vert pré / vert gazon > grass green; olive / pistache / émeraude > olive / pistachio / emerald; vert pomme / d'eau / bouteille > apple / sea / bottle green
  • Violet or violette > violet

Invariables: Colors Based on Elements of Nature

Color adjectives based on elements of nature such as the names of flowers, fruits, precious and other stones, or metals are generally invariable, meaning they do not agree with the noun they modify and, therefore, do not change form. Many are compound adjectives such as jaune citron, which also makes them invariable; take away the main color such as jaune and leave only the modifier from nature such as citron, and you still have an invariable, unchanging adjective. Some common colors that derive their names from fruits, stones, metals, flowers and other elements of nature include:

  • Abricot > apricot
  • Ambre  > amber (dark orange yellow)
  • Avocat > avocado
  • Bleu ardoise > slate blue; bleu canard > peacock blue
  • Brique > brick red
  • Bronze > bronze
  • Chocolat > chocolate brown
  • Ébène > ebony (black)
  • Fuschia > fuschia
  • Jaune citron > lemon yellow; jaune coing > quince yellow, bright yellow; jaune d'or > golden yellow; jaune moutarde > mustard yellow; jaune paille > straw yellow; jaune canari > canary yellow; jaune poussin > chick yellow, bright yellow
  • Lavande > lavender
  • Marron (horse chestnut) > brown; marron glacé > light chestnut brown; café au lait > light brown
  • Noisette > hazelnut
  • Orange > orange
  • Turquoise > turquoise
  • Vert citron > lime green; vert sapin > pine green, forest green; vert pré / vert gazon > grass green; olive / pistache / émeraude > olive / pistachio / emerald; vert pomme / d'eau / bouteille > apple / sea / bottle green

Because these are invariable (do not agree in gender and number), you would say:

  • Des cravates orange > orange ties (not oranges)
  • Des yeux marron > brown eyes (not marrons)
  • Des yeux noisette > hazel eyes (not noisettes)
  • Des fleurs fuschia > fuschia-colored flowers (not fuschia/e/s)
  • Des chaussures citron > lemon yellow shoes (not citron/e/s)
  • Des  pantalons cerise > cherry red pants (not cerises)

Exceptions: pourpre and violet (purple), mauve (mauve), rose (pink), écarlate (scarlet red), fauve (fawn), and incarnat (crimson red), which agree with the number and gender of the noun they modify. For example:

  • Des chaussures fauves > taupe shoes

More Invariables: Compound Colors

When a color consists of two or more colors or a color and an adjective of intensity, then the color adjectives are invariable, meaning they do not agree in number and gender with the noun they describe.

  • Une chemise bleu vert (not bleue verte)
  • Des yeux gris bleu (not gris bleus)
  • Une robe vert pâle (not verte pâle)

And More Invariables: Adjectives of Intensity + Color

Adjectives describing the nuances or degrees of intensity often modify colors. Together, they form a compound color such as rose clair ("light pink") that is invariable. Such adjectives of intensity include:

  • Clair > light

  • Foncé > dark

  • Vif > bright

  • Pâle > pale