How to Describe Color in Chinese
While learning colors may seem a bit trivial, we actually use colors to describe things in our daily speech more than you might realize. In fact, one of the most basic ways that we describe things and people around us is through color. If you go shopping, you might need to ask for a piece of clothing in a certain color. Or when you’re describing someone’s appearance, you might want to say what color hair or eyes they have. That’s why learning how to describe color in Chinese is so important!
Beyond your basic colors, you’ll also want to learn ways to modify these in Chinese, like how to describe colors as “light” or “dark,” or how to say more specific shades of colors in Chinese, like “magenta” or “sky blue.”
Let’s start by looking at some basic colors.
Basic Chinese Color Vocabulary
These color words can be used alone, but they are often paired with the character “色” (sè). This character is part of the word “color” (颜色) listed above, and alone also means “color.” To use this word, simply place it after the color word. So for example, red (红) becomes “红色.”
Here are a few example sentences:
|你最喜欢什么颜色？||你最喜歡什麼顏色？||Nǐ zuì xǐhuan shénme yánsè？||What’s your favorite color?|
|我最喜欢黄色。||我最喜歡黃色。||Wǒ zuì xǐhuan huángsè.||I like yellow the most.|
|这个包包有三种颜色。||這個包包有三種顏色。||hège bāo bāo yǒu sān zhǒng yánsè.||This bag comes in three colors.|
|今天的天空好蓝。||今天的天空好藍。||Jīntiān de tiānkōng hǎo lán.||The sky is so blue today.|
Using Basic Chinese Color Words
There are two main ways to use the colors in the list above:
1- Color name + N.
|蓝眼睛||藍眼睛||lán yǎnjing||blue eyes|
|黃衣服||黃衣服||huáng yīfu||yellow clothes|
2- Color name + 色 + 的 + N.
|蓝色的眼睛||藍色的眼睛||lánsè de yǎnjing||blue eyes|
|黃色的衣服||黃色的衣服||huángsè de yīfu||yellow clothes|
|白色的猫头鹰||白色的貓頭鷹||bái sè de māo tóu yīng||white owl|
Here’s how you might use these patterns in full sentences:
|他有红头发。||他有紅頭髮。||Tā yǒu hóng tóufa.||He has red hair.|
|他有红色的头发。||他有紅色的頭髮。||Tā yǒu hóngsè de tóufa.||He has red hair.|
|他的头发是红色的。||他的頭髮是紅色的。||Tā de tóufa shì hóngsè de.||His hair is red.|
Describing Colors in More Detail in Chinese
Just like in English, there are several ways to modify the basic colors in Chinese to describe colors more precisely, as well as many more specific shades of colors. Below are a few ways that you can describe what color something is in more detail.
1- Light vs Dark
The easiest way to describe any color is to differentiate whether it is light or dark, just like how in English we might say “dark blue” or “light blue.” Below are a few examples of how to use these descriptors.
|淺绿色||淺綠色||qiǎn lǜsè||light green|
|深绿色||深綠色||shēn lǜsè||dark green|
2- Combining Colors
Just like in English, it’s possible to describe a color as being a mix of two colors in Chinese. Below are a few examples of common pairings.
3- More Specific Color Shades
Beyond the basic colors, there are many shades of colors in Chinese. Here are some Chinese color shades.
|珊瑚红||珊瑚紅||shān hú hóng||coral|
|橄榄绿||橄欖綠||gǎn lǎn lǜ||olive green|
|森林绿||森林綠||sēn lín lǜ||forest green|
|天蓝||天藍||tiān lán||sky blue|
|紫罗兰||紫羅蘭||zǐ lúo lán||violet|
|象牙白||象牙白||xiàng yá bái||ivory|
|碳黑||碳黑||tàn hēi||soot black|
4- Using Objects to Describe Colors
You can also talk about colors in terms of common objects that are associated with that color, just like how in English we might say something is “cream colored.” Many of the terms that we use in English, like “cream colored,” are also used in Chinese (奶油色 nǎi yóu sè). However, some terms do differ, often due to cultural differences. Below are a few examples of item-based color shades in Chinese.
|肤色||膚色||fūsè||skin color / nude|
|豆沙色||豆沙色||dòushāsè||red bean color|
5- Other Color-Related Words
As mentioned, adding “light” or “dark” in front of a color is one way to be more specific when talking about colors, but you can also use other descriptive words to explain the color of something. Here are a few other color-related words that you might want to add to your Chinese vocabulary.
|暖色||暖色||nuǎn sè||warm color|
|冷色||冷色||lěng sè||cool color|
|中性色||中性色||zhōng xìng sè||neutral color|
The color words and related sentences above will definitely help add more color to your speech in Chinese! Whether you need to describe what someone looks like or explain what color item you want to a storekeeper, color vocabulary is sure to come in handy. You can try starting with some basic colors and then add other descriptive words, like “light” and “dark,” and then learn some more specific shades of colors. You’ll be describing colors in Chinese like a pro in no time!
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