colours in english

Colours in English

What would the world be like without colours? We’d have a pretty grey landscape, in every sense of the word. In this beginner-level lesson, we’ll show you how to say the colours in English, from basic colours to the more interesting combinations.

But first, we’ll remind you that in American English, it’s spelled color, while in British English it’s spelled colour.


Primary and Secondary Colours

These days, there are many different classifications of colours, which are all very fascinating.

We’ll start with the traditional RYB, primarily used in the plastic arts. In the classic model, the following primary colours are used:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue.


By combining these basic colours, you can get new colours, like these:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange.
  • Red + Blue = Purple.
  • Yellow + Blue = Green.


There’s another system called CYMK, also known as “subtractive synthesis of colour,” which establishes the primary colours as:

  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow
  • Black


Black comes from the combination of all the other colours.

Although it may seem incredible, our vision is trichromatic. This means that we only perceive 3 colours: green, blue and red, and the rest are all combinations generated in our brains.


The Colours of the Rainbow









Other Important Colours in English

Being familiar with other colours in English will allow you to describe the objects you perceive more precisely. Here are some of the most common:

  • Grey (UK) / Gray (US)  
  • Brown 
  • Pink
  • Silver
  • Golden 
  • Turquoise
  • Beige


Tertiary Colours in English

The tertiary colours come from the combination of primary and secondary colours. We’ll share a few here:

  • Vermilion
  • Amber 
  • Lime
  • Violet
  • Garnet 
  • Turquoise



Colours with Specific Names in English

From the combinations we’ve shared with you, new names sometimes arise, often based on things like plants, fruits, metals and gemstones.

We’ll share some of the names of these colours next:

  • Orange Peel
  • Khaki
  • Coffee
  • Aubergine
  • Amethyst
  • Apple Green
  • Olive Green
  • Lemon-lime
  • Chocolate
  • Copper
  • Plum
  • Mocha
  • Silver
  • Burgundy
  • Lavender
  • Salmon
  • Lilac


Colours with Strange Names in English

There are some colours with exotic names, whose origin is also pretty interesting. Next, we’ll share some colours with strange names in English:

  • Mummy brown: Mummies achieved great popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, among other reasons for the pigment obtained from the resins on their bandages, which were thought to have magical, medicinal and aesthetic properties.
  • Dragon blood: It’s not necessary to trap a dragon to get this pigment. It actually comes from the dragon tree, which has an intense red sap, similar to blood.
  • Emerald green: It was produced industrially in Germany beginning in 1814, but it’s no longer used due to its high toxicity. It was even used as an insecticide.
  • Cadmium yellow: From the mid-19th century this pigment has been used in Germany. It was very popular among Impressionist painters for its bright yellow tones. Unfortunately, this pigment also turned out to be pretty toxic.
  • Chartreuse: A color between yellow-green and yellow-grey. Its name comes from the colour of a liquor of the same name, made by the French Carthusian monks.


Fun Facts about Colours

  • The colour pink helps decrease anger and anxiety: Some mental health institutions use this colour on their walls because it seems that the colour pink has a relaxing effect that decreases negative emotions.
  • It affects our perception of flavor: Would you like to drink a blue lemonade or a cup of green coffee? That would probably seem a little strange to you. If you enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate in a red cup, that would certainly be a more pleasant experience.
  • A phobia of colours exists: Known as “chromophobia,” some people experience the fear of certain colours, with symptoms such as anxiety and panic.
  • Yellow makes you hungry: Now you know why it’s so common to see it in the marketing for certain fast food restaurants.


Useful Expressions to Talk about Colours in English

Now that you’ve learned quite a bit about colours, it’s time to put that knowledge into practice through a few expressions and questions you can use in your daily life.

What is your favourite colour?

What colour are Julia’s shoes?

How do you spell ‘white’ in English?


To describe the shade of a colour, you can use the words light and dark, respectively.

Light green

Dark orange


We hope that you’ve enjoyed this lesson. Remember that with ABA English, you can perfect your English vocabulary regarding colours and many more topics.

Learn English in a fun, dynamic way with us and join our over 30 million students worldwide.


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