Colors as Italian Adjectives and Idioms

In Italian, colors aren't just everyday adjectives; they also appear in idioms to express emotions, fears, feelings, and passions. Colors charge idioms with poetic nuance.

Expressions like cronaca rosa (gossip columns), romanzo giallo (mystery novel), avere una fifa blu (to be filled with terror), dama bianca (the spectre of a woman [folklore has it that her appearance is an omen of death]), and anima nera ([to have] a wicked soul) are common in Italian.

Colors also create the Italian flag, which is called il tricolore (three-colors) because it's green, white, and red. Any association of green, white, and red evoke the tricolore for Italians, so much so that these three hues have lost their function as adjectives and gained that of national symbols.

Here are a few more idiomatic expressions with colors:

  • zona blu (blue area), generally in the historical center of a town, where the circulation of cars is forbidden

  • diventare di tutti i colori (to show deep embarassment)

  • dirne/farne/vederne di tutti i colori (to say/do/see all kinds of preposterous things)

  • essere nero (to be filled with rage)

  • mettere nero su bianco (to put something down in black and white [as in black ink on white paper])

  • vederci rosso (to be very upset)

When a photo isn't a colori (in color), it's in bianco e nero (white and black) in Italian, not in black and white as in the English language!

Despite the use of colors in so many Italian idioms, don't forget that colors are descriptors and that, as with every adjective in Italian, they agree in gender and number with the noun they describe:

  • una gonna nera (a black skirt)

  • tante gonne nere (many black skirts)

  • un giaccone verde (a green jacket)

  • due giacconi verdi (two green jackets)

Unlike in the English language, colors usually follow nouns in Italian: Indosso una gonna nera e un giaccone verde (I am wearing a black skirt and a green jacket).

Most of the colors are adjectives ending in -o, -a, (-i, -e in the plural forms), some end in -e (-i [plural]), while others remain unchanged in gender and number:

Colors in -o/-a/-i/-e Colors in -e/-i Colors with invariable ending
bianco/a/chi/che (white) verde/i (green) rosa (pink)
nero/a/i/e (black) arancione/i (orange) viola (violet/purple)
rosso/a/i/e (red) marrone/i(brown) blu (blue)
giallo/a/i/e (yellow) celeste/i (light blue)
azzurro/a/i/e (azure)
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