Colors in German are easy to learn.
Since German is a close cousin of English, most German color words are very similar in spelling and pronunciation to their English counterparts. This means you won't have to do much work to remember them.
The word “color” itself (although Irish folk like me would spell it “colour”!) translates as the feminine noun Farbe (plural Farben). If you ever get stuck trying to remember a color word, try asking somebody welche Farbe ist das? – “what color is that?”
Farbe also shows up in words like farblos (“colorless”), farbenfroh (“colorful”), and farbenblind (“colorblind”), and can be used as a prefix (Farb-) in compound nouns like Farbfernseher (“color television”).
Below, I'll teach you all the most important color words in German. We'll also cover some colorful idiomatic expressions, such as blau sein (“to be blue”), which doesn't mean the same thing as “to feel blue” in English. But first, a few quick notes on grammar:
First, remember that German colors, when used as adjectives, follow all the same rules as regular adjectives. A full description of German adjective rules is beyond the scope of the article, but the most important point is that the color words must agree with the noun in gender and case: ein weißes Hemd (a white shirt) but “ein weißer Rock” (a white skirt).
The exception is color words that end in -a, like rosa, or lila. These words don't take any special endings: it's ein rosa Hemd or ein lila Rock.
In some situations, German color words can function as nouns. This means that, like all German nouns, they should be written with a capital letter; for example, das Blau des Himmels (“the blue of the sky”). When used as a noun, German colors always take the neuter gender, i.e. they use “das”.
How to Say “Red” in German
“Red” in German is rot. Unless you've been drinking too much Rotwein (“red wine”), this rotten word isn't hard to remember.
Rot sehen, “to see red”, has the same meaning as in English: to be very angry. It can also mean “to be a shown a red card”, as in football.
German children are also familiar with the story of Rotkäppchen (literally “little red cap”), who is better known to English audiences as Little Red Riding Hood.
How to Say “Blue” in German
“Blue” in German is blau. It rhymes with the English word “now”. Policeman have a Blaulicht (“siren”, or literally “blue light”) on their cars, and when you're designing something you might use a Blaupause (“blueprint”).
In English, to “feel blue” means that you're sad. In German, however, if you describe someone as blau, it means that they're drunk! Another difference from English is that, if someone punches you in the face, they can give you a blaues Auge (“blue eye”), not a “black eye”.
That last one shouldn't to be confused with the adjective blauäugig, “blue-eyed”. Someone who is blauäugig is naïve*.
On the other hand, saying that someone has blaues Blut (“blue blood”) has the same meaning as in English; it means they're part of the nobility.
How to Say “Green” in German
“Green” in German is grün, pronounced (roughly) “groon”. Die Grüne, “The Greens”, is also the name of a German political party.
Like in English, you can give someone permission or approval by giving them the grünes Licht (“green light”). My own home country, the so-called Emerald Isle, is colloquially known in German as die Grüne Insel (“the green island”).
You can also say that something ist dasselbe in Grün – “it's the same in green”. This is a, ahem, colorful way of saying that “it's the same” or “it makes no difference” – sort of like the English expression, “it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.”
You’ve probably heard the English saying, “to beat somebody black and blue”, meaning to beat someone up really badly. In German they say jemanden grün und blau schlagen – to beat somebody green and blue.
How to Say “Yellow” in German
“Yellow” in German is gelb. This is one of the few German color words that looks nothing like its English translation. If it helps, remember that gelb sounds somewhat like gold, and gold is yellow.
(Incidentally, the word “gold” in German is Gold. That was easy! Silver in German is Silber.)
In English, if someone is feeling jealous, we describe them as being “green with envy”. In German, you'd say they are gelb vor Neid – “yellow with envy”!
How to Say “Orange” in German
“Orange” in German is orange. This one should be very easy to remember! It's just pronounced a bit differently: “oh-RAN-shuh”.
Unsurprisingly, “Orange” in German refers to the fruit as well as the color. Just don't forget that the name of the fruit, since it's a noun, must be capitalised.
Here's a fun fact – did you know that the color orange is named after the fruit, and not the other way around? This is true in both English and German.
How to Say “Pink” in German
“Pink” in German is rosa. It's easy to remember: just think of a pink rose.
In recent years, the English loanword pink has also become common in German-speaking countries; however, in German, Pink and Rosa aren't quite the same color. Pink can be thought of as a particular shade of Rosa; Wikipedia describes it as “a strong, heavy pink” that “rarely occurs in nature.” Think the garish, flashy pink used for girls' toys. If in doubt, it's probably best to stick with Rosa.
A German expression using the word rosa is durch die rosa Brille schauen, “to look through pink glasses.” Someone who looks through rosa Brille has a “rosey-eyed” outlook on things; they're optimistic and see the good side.
How to Say “Purple” in German
“Purple” in German is lila. Just think of the English word “lilac” (although this flower is known in German as Flieder.)
Less commonly, you might hear violett instead. There’s also the words purpurn and purpurrot – obvious cognates of the English “purple”, but considered rather old-fashioned in German these days.
How to Say “Grey” in German
“Grey” in German is grau – another one that should be easy to remember.
Someone with grey hair is said to be grauhaarig in German. The process of becoming grauhaarig is called grau werden – turning grey. If you're in a morally or legally ambiguous situation, you're in a Grauzone, a “grey area”. To resolve the dilemma, you may have to rely on your graue Substanz – grey matter, i.e. your brain.
How to Say “Black” in German
“Black” in German is schwarz. This word makes me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger! If something is very dark you might call it pechschwarz (“pitch black”) or even kohlrabenschwarz (“black as a raven”).
Schwarz turns up in many expressions and compound words in German, such as der Schwarzmarkt (“the blackmarket”) or eine schwarze Liste (“a blacklist”). An estranged or troublesome family member can be described as the schwarzes Schaf (“black sheep”) of the family.
A Schwarzfahrer (“black rider”) is someone who sneakily rides the train or bus without a ticket – common in cities like Berlin, where the metro stations have no turnstiles. A Schwarzseher (“black looker”) is someone with a dark and dismal attitude to things -. a pessimist.
If you're very angry — even angrier than rotsehen — you can sich schwarz ärgern, “turn black with anger”. This expression is particularly used when you're angry about something you have no control over.
How to Say “White” in German
“White” in German is weiß. Remember that the “ß” character is pronounced like an “s”, so this word sounds just like the English word “vice”.
A rather gory expression using weiß is weißbluten, literally “to white-bleed”. Its meaning is roughly equivalent to the English expression “bleeding someone dry”,or to use up all of someone's money or to extort them.
If someone is innocent, you can say that they haben eine weiße Weste – they “have a white vest”. This evokes images of fairy tales or classic Western movies where the protagonists always wear white and the bad guys wear black. Someone wearing a white vest must be one of the good guys, right?
How to Say “Brown” in German
“Brown” in German is braun. It's pronounced almost identically to the English word; you just need to make sure you pronounce the “r” in the German way, from the back of your throat.
The verb bräunen means “to become brown”, or to tan.
Braun is also a very common German surname, much like “Brown” is in English. The same is true of Weiß and Schwarz, just like “White” and “Black” in English-speaking countries.
Over to You!
That covers all the most common color words in German!
One final thing – if you want to talk about a lighter or darker shade of a color, use hell (“light”) or dunkel (“dark”). They combine with the adjective to create a compound word: for example hellbraun means “light brown” and dunkelblau means “dark blue”.