Colours in Japanese

Colour in Japanese is 色 (いろ) and using colours works a little different in Japanese than in English. In English, you can use all colours in the same way. One option is putting it in front of a word to say something about it. If you want to say which colour the car is, you just put the colour in front of it, and you get a green, red, pink or even deep turquoise car. In every case, the colour can simply precede the noun (the car in this instance).

In Japanese, there is only a small group of colours that can be used as adjectives in this way, although this is an important group. Most colours are used as nouns and take the possessive の when it precedes another noun. The colours that can be used as adjective are い-adjectives and conjugate in the same way as other い-adjectives

  • Main lesson 1: Most Japanese colours are used as nouns and take the possessive の but a small important group can be used as い-adjective

Standard way to use colours in Japanese

First, let’s look at some ways how to use colours in Japanese. Below, we will go into the two different colour groups in more detail. 

  赤いです  
  かお が あかい です  
  Your face is red  
         
  かお Face  
  赤い あかい Red  
  です   Is  
  あの灰色のビルですか  
  あのはいいろのびるですか  
  Is that a gray building?  
  あの   That…  
  灰色 はいいろ Gray  
  ビル びる Building  
  です   Is  
    Question particle  
  紫のじゅうたんはこの赤いカーテンと調和しないだろう  
  むらさきのじゅうたんはこのあかいカーテンとちょうわしないだろう  
  A purple carpet will not go with this red curtain  
         
  むらさき Purple  
  じゅうたん   Carpet  
  この   This  
  赤い あかい Red  
  カーテン kaaten Curtain  
  調和しない ちょうわ To not be in harmony  
  だろう   Probably  

Colours as い-adjective

So there are a handfull of colours that function as い-adjectives. You probably already know how い-adjectives work in Japanese. If not, check this article out. The concept for colours is more or less the same. The colours start out as simple nouns as you see them below but when you use it as an adjective you add an い.

 い-adjective colours (in noun form) 
 Black(くろ) 
 White(しろ) 
 Red(あか) 
 Blue/green/azure(あお) 
 Yellow(きいろ)黄色 
  い-adjectives colours as adjectives      
  Black (くろい) 黒い  
  White (しろい) 白い  
  Red (あかい) 赤い  
  Blue/green/azure (あおい) 青い  
  Yellow (きいろい) 黄色い  
       
  これは赤い車です    
  これはあかいくるまです    
  This is a red car    
       
    これ This
  くるま Car
    です Is
  父は白い紙です    
  ちちはしろいかみです    
  My father has white hair    
       
  ちち (My) father
  白い しろい White
  かみ Hair
  彼女は小さな黒い犬を飼っている    
  このじょはちいさなくろいいぬをかっている    
  Girlfriend has a small black dog    
       
  彼女 かのじょ She/girlfriend
  小さな ちいさな Small
  黒い くろい Black
  いぬ Dog
  飼う かう Owning (a pet)
  赤いドレスのため彼女は目立った    
  あかいどれすのためかのじょはめだった    
  A red dress made her stand out    
       
  赤い あかい Red
  ドレス doresu Dress
  彼女 かのじょ She/Girlfriend
  目立つ めだつ To stand out

Japanese Colours as nouns

Most Japanese colours are nouns which means that when you want to use them as adjective you have to use a の to connect it with the noun you want to say something about. First a short list of this group of colours and then some examples.

  Japanese colours that use の-adjectives      
  Brown (ちゃいいろ) 茶色  
  Green (みどり)  
  Grey (はいいろ) 灰色  
  Orange (オレンジ) orenji  
  Purple (むらさき) 紫色  
  緑のボタンを押して下さい  
  みどりのばたんをおしてください  
  Please push the green button  
         
  みどり Green  
  ボタン ばたん Button  
  押して おして To press (from 押す)  
  下さい ください Please  
  それはオレンジの一種です  
  それはおれんじのいっしゅです  
  It is a kind of orange  
         
  それ   That one  
  オレンジ orenji Orange  
  一種 いっしゅ Kind of  
  です   Is