How to Learn a Rainbow of Colors in Korean
So you want to learn the colors in Korean? Good call!
Colors are one of the first things we teach children when learning a language. And it should be one of the first things you learn in Korean, too.
Colors can be so helpful in the beginning stages of language learning.
If you don’t know a word, you can describe its characteristics by using color. Colors help you point out one object over another or even talk about your emotions. (Think like, “I’m seeing red” in English to describe anger!) And we’re surrounded by color all the time, so they’re common Korean words to hear and use.
Maybe you’re not sure where to begin with learning colors in Korean.
After all, while most of Korean is easier than you think… colors in Korean are just a bit confusing. Korean colors can function differently than in English. They can be adjectives, verbs, or nouns, and change forms depending on the situation.
But don’t worry, because I’ll explain it all here.
So let’s break down all the colors in Korean! Here’s what I’ll be teaching you today:
- How to say all the basic colors of the rainbow in Korean
- How to modify your colors (light or dark colors)
- Korean grammar when using color words
- More Korean colors like in a Crayola box!
Ready to get learning? 시작하자! (sijaghaja, “Let’s get started!”)
All the Colors in Korean: Basic Korean Colors 101
First, let’s start with the colors of the rainbow:
- Red in Korean is 빨간색 (ppalkansaek)
- Orange in Korean is 주황색 (juhwangsaek)
- Yellow in Korean is 노란색 (noransaek)
- Green in Korean is 초록색 (choroksaek)
- Blue in Korean is 파란색 (paransaek)
- Purple in Korean is 보라색 (bolasaek)
And some more common, basic colors:
- White in Korean is 하얀색 (hayansaek)
- Black in Korean is 검정색 (geomjeongsaek)
- Gray in Korean is 회색 (hoesaek)
- Pink in Korean is 분홍색 (bunhongsaek)
- Rainbow in Korean is 무지개색 (mujigaesaek)
“Color” in Korean
You may have noticed above, but all those words end with the same thing: 색 (saek). That’s because 색 is the word for “color” in Korean! You can also use the word 색깔 (saekkkal).
What’s the difference between the two? Well, 색깔 (saekkkal) is used to talk about color in general. 색 (saek) is used to talk about a specific color. Here’s an example of how to use each:
- 이 색깔이 정말 좋아 (i saekkkal-i jeongmal joh-a) – “I really like this color.”
- 수박은 빨간색이에요. (subag-eun ppalgansaek-ieyo) – “Watermelon is red.”
In the first example, we’re talking about a general color. In the second, we’re talking about red specifically.
There’s also a special point here when it comes to using 색 with colors.
Red, yellow, blue, white, and black can drop 색 when used as an adjective.
How to Modify Korean Colors
So, in English, we modify colors by saying things like “light blue” and “dark blue.” Sometimes we also talk about the intensity of the color, like “pastel blue” or “bright blue.” How can we describe colors in the same way in Korean?
For pastel colors, it’s taken from the English word and said 파스텔 (paseutel). Add it on to your color: 파스텔파란색 for pastel blue, 파스텔분홍색 for pastel pink.
You can say 선명한 (seonmyeonghan) in the same way to say a color is vivid, bright, or bold.
For light colors, you say 밝은 (balkeun) plus the color. Like 밝은빨간색 for light red. For dark colors, it’s 어두운 (eoduun).
There are a few exceptions though, where a light, dark, or pastel color has its own name. For instance, “light blue” wouldn’t be 밝은파란색, but 하늘색 (haneulsaek) which is “sky blue.”
Korean Grammar When Using Color Words
When it comes to using colors in sentences, it’s actually pretty straightforward.
The colors listed above are nouns, but they can be used as adjectives as well. For example:
이 보라색 드레스를 좋아해요.
i bolasaek deuleseu leul joh-ahaeyo.
I like this purple dress.
그 차는 빨간색이에요.
geu cha neun ppalgansaek-ieyo
The car is red.
So, in the first example, purple is an adjective to describe the dress. In the second example, red is a noun to state the color of the car and combined with the verb 이다 (ida) which means “to be”
As I already mentioned, some colors drop 색 when used as adjectives. These special colors are red, yellow, blue, white, and black. So keep that in mind.
The rest of the adjective colors in Korean can function like in English, where they come before the noun. Or, they can act like they do in Spanish, coming after the noun, to describe a specific color. In this case, you combine 색 with the verb 이다 (ida).
Crayola Box of Korean Colors!
There are lots of names for colors besides the basics. Like gold in Korean is 금색 (geumsaek) — a good one to know if you’re going to watch the Olympics, or talk about money!
Oh, and if you’re curious: “crayon” in Korean is 크레용 (keuleyong), taken from English.
So here are some extra colors in Korean that you might find in a Crayola box:
- 은색 (eunsaek) – “Silver”
- 청동색 (cheongdong saek) – “Bronze”
- 적갈색 (jeoggalsaek) – “Maroon”
- 연보라색 (lyeonbolasaek) – “Light purple, lilac”
- 연두색 (yeondusaek) – “Light green”
- 청록색 (cheonglogsaek) – “Turquoise”
- 자홍색 (jahongsaek) – “Fuchsia”
- 남색 (namsaek) – “Indigo”
- 민트 색 (minteusaek) – “Mint”
- 핫 핑크색 (has pingkeusaek) – “Hot Pink”
- 산호 색 (sanhosaek) – “Coral”
- 비취색 (bichiwisaek) – “Jade”
- 황갈색 (hwang-galsaek) – “Tan”
- 복숭아색 (bogsung-a saek) – “Peach”
The Best Ways to Practice Using Korean Colors
The best way to practice using Korean colors is to use them — a lot!
You could practice by labeling items around your home with their color. Or try making it into a sentence, where you practice attaching the color to the noun. For instance, if you place a sticky note on your black fridge, you might say:
냉장고는 검은 색입니다.
naengjang-goneun geom-eun saek-ibnida
“The fridge is black.”
Another great way to practice is to use mnemonics. Can you come up with word associations in English to help you remember the Korean word?
Take the word for yellow, 노란색 (nolansaek). I think to myself, I accidentally washed my white shirt with a bright yellow sock! Now it’s “no long”-er the color white.
It’s also helpful to put the vocab in a flashcard app, like Anki, or use some helpful Korean apps. The Naver dictionary, especially, is helpful when learning Korean vocab, grammar, and idioms. You can hear how the words sound, so you can work on your pronunciation. You can also look up any other colors you may want to know, with example sentences.
There are also vocab apps that have color categories to help you memorize them. I like Drops for Korean vocab. They have 2,000+ vocab words, including Korean pop culture, as well as the basics. Colors, beginner phrases, numbers, and more.
Korean Colors as Verbs
The special colors in Korean (red, yellow, blue, white, and black) can be used at the end of the sentence too, as a verb.
(We sometimes use colors as verbs in English too, e.g. “the sky yellowed”.)
To transform colors into verbs in Korean, change the ending from -ㄴ색 (-nsaek) to -ㅎ다 (-hda) to make it a descriptive verb. This is honestly a complicated nuance to the language, but it’s often heard so it’s good to know. Basically, adding -ㅎ다 (-hda) to the end of one of the special colors means almost the same thing as adding the verb 이다 (ida). But the nuance is slightly different.
With -ㅎ다 (-hda), you’re saying something “does” the color automatically or naturally. For example:
머리가 빨개요. (meoliga ppalgaeyo)
My hair is red.
Red is normally 빨간색 (ppalkansaek). So you drop the -ㄴ색 (-nsaek), and add on the casual verb conjugation of -ㅎ다 (-hda) which makes it 빨개요 (ppalgaeyo).
It means my hair is red… naturally, by birth. Whereas if I used 빨간색 (ppalkansaek) with the verb 이다 (ida), it would be translated the same, but could mean my hair was red because I colored it. Or because something happened to it to make it red.
I know this can take some getting used to, but don’t worry about it too much. Just know if you hear one of the special colors said this way, it means something “does” the color naturally.
Color Your Korean!
There you have it — your beginner lesson into the world of Korean colors. Make sure to practice what you’ve learned so it sticks with you! Go through your day naming the colors of things around you, and soak up the rainbow.
So what’s next for your Korean language journey? I recommend learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet, next if you haven’t already. You could immerse yourself in amazing Korean movies and K-Dramas to boost your language skills. Or, if you’re brave… Try binge-watching Mukbang videos on YouTube. (In fact, they use a lot of adjectives and colors to describe what they’re eating!) While mukbang isn’t my favorite form of Korean immersion, it does provide some colorful commentary and real-life Korean phrases about food. Perfect for the foodie at heart!
And if you’re interested in really learning Korean to start speaking fast, I highly recommend reading my review for 90 Day Korean. It’s my favorite language learning course I’ve taken to date!