Free English Lessons

Spoken English – Colour Idioms

by Oli Redman on 4 November, 2014 , No comments

In every language, colours have different associations – we connect different colours with different feelings or ideas. In this free English video lesson, you can learn about the associations of different colours in English, and how you can use these associations in idiomatic English. You can learn many useful phrases and ideas to use in your spoken English.

Red

Red has many different associations in English. People’s faces often turn red if they are angry or embarrassed, so red has these ideas in English.

For example:

  • He saw red and started screaming at everyone when he heard. –> He got very angry.
  • They were left red-faced after they lost 8-0. –> They were embarrassed.

Red is also the colour of debt. Think about it: if you see your bank balance on a screen, the number will be black if you have money, and red if you owe the bank money:

  • We’ve been in the red for months. I don’t know what to do. –> We’re in debt.

And also bureaucracy, in the phrase red tape:

  • There’s too much red tape for people trying to start a business. –> There’s too much bureaucracy; too many complicated rules and laws.

Yellow

Yellow carries the idea of being easily frightened, or cowardly.

For example:

  • He’s too yellow-bellied to say what he really thinks. –> He’s too scared.

This isn’t used so often in modern spoken English, although it’s still understood, so the association is still true.

Green

Green is the colour of jealousy or envy: when you want what someone else has.

For example:

  • I turned green with envy when I heard he had got the job instead of me. –> I felt very envious, because I wanted that job.
  • She tries to control her jealousy, but the green-eyed monster always comes back… –>She can’t stop herself feeling jealous, no matter how much she tries.

If you’re interested, the phrase green-eyed monster to mean jealousy was first used by Shakespeare.

Nowadays, the colour green is often associated with the environment, and being environmentally friendly.

For example:

  • Green activists protested against the opening of the factory. –> Green = environmentalist, people who care deeply about the environment.
  • We need to develop a greener energy sector. –> We need to make energy production more environmentally friendly.

Blue

The colour blue is associated with depression and sadness.

For example:

  • Long, dark winters always give me the blues. –> They make me feel sad.
  • He’s been feeling a bit blue lately. –> He’s been a bit down/depressed.

Sometimes, blue carries the idea of rude or pornographic.

For example:

  • There were a group of guys drinking in the corner, turning the air blue. –> Swearing and using bad language.
  • I went to see the film with my parents, but it got a little blue in some parts. How embarrassing! –> There was a lot of sex.

Grey

What do you associate with the colour grey? In English, grey often represents something boring, unattractive or colourless.

For example:

  • It’s a grey city, with nothing to recommend it –> It’s boring and unattractive.

Grey can also be used to mean that something is unclear, usually in the phrase grey area:

  • Many companies use grey areas in the law to avoid paying tax. –> The law is sometimes unclear.

Black

The colour black has mostly negative associations. It can mean something dark, bad, or illegal.
For example:

  • I don’t remember the accident at all—I just blacked out. –> I lost consciousness, and wasn’t aware of anything.
  • After the disaster last time, we blacklisted their company. –> We refuse to work with them again, because they did such a bad job.
  • You can get a better rate if you change money on the black market. –> On the black market = illegally.

Colour Idioms Quiz

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Oli RedmanSpoken English – Colour Idioms