Colour words in Vietnamese (màu sắc)

Words for colours in Vietnamese with notes on their meanings, and cultural associations.

The word for colour, màu (牟) [maw˨˩], can be added before the other colour words to make it clear that you are talking about colours. If that is clear from the context, there's no need to use it, except in the case of gold (vàng) and yellow (màu vàng). When talking about colour in general, the word màu sắc (牟色) [maw˨˩ sak̚˧˦] is used.

black đen (𪓇) [ʔɗɛn˧˧ / ʔɗɛŋ˧˧]; màu đen (牟𪓇) - black, dark (skin); unlucky, unfortunate

Black is associated with dark, evil and filth.

  • đen kịt = jet-black
  • đen tối = pitch-dark, dark, perverted, in the gutter (thoughts)
  • đen đủi = dark and ugly; unlucky, unfortunate, inauspicious
  • bảng đen = blackboard
  • bôi đen = to smear black on, contaminate, delete or redact text, highlight text
  • đậu đen = black bean
  • hố đen, lỗ đen = black hole
  • xã hội đen = gangsters, thugs (“black society”)

white trắng [t͡ɕaŋ˧˦] (𤽸); màu trắng (牟𤽸) - white, pale (skin)

White is associated with purity, death, and the end.

  • gấu trắng = polar bear, white bear
  • lòng trắng = egg white, albumen
  • trắng bệch = sickly, chalky, pale white (complexion)
  • trắng tay = empty-handed
  • trong trắng = pure, clean, unblemished, immaculate

red đỏ [ʔɗɔ˧˩] (𧹼, 𧺃, 𣠶, 𧹥, 𧹦, 𧹻) - red, burning, flaring up, lucky, fortunate, Communist
thắm (𧺀, 𧺁, 審, 𣠒, 嘇, 𧹱) [tʰam˧˦] dark, carmine, gorgeous (colour, esp. red)

Red is associated with happiness, love, luck and celebration.

  • đỏ choé [ʔɗɔ˧˩ t͡ɕwɛ˧˦] = bright red
  • lòng đỏ [lawŋ͡m˨˩ ʔɗɔ˧˩] = egg yolk
  • thảm đỏ [tʰaːm˧˩ ʔɗɔ˧˩] = red carpet

yellow màu vàng (牟黄) - yellow (colour), yellowy, aureate vàng (黄) [vaːŋ˨˩] - yellow, gold (colour / metal);

Yellow is associated with wealth, prosperity, royalty, happiness and change

  • vàng chanh [vaːŋ˨˩ t͡ɕajŋ̟˧˧] = lime (colour)
  • cá vàng [kaː˧˦ vaːŋ˨˩] = gold fish

blue green xanh (青) [sajŋ̟˧˧ / sɛɲ˧˧ / san˧˧] - blue/green, grue, green (unripe)
lam (藍) [laːm˧˧] - blue (rarely used)

The naturalized pronunciation of 青 which is ‘thanh’ in standard Sino-Vietnamese. Green is associated with jealousy and lust, and blue is associated with calmness, hope and growth.

  • xanh da trời [sajŋ̟˧˧ zaː˧˧ t͡ɕəːj˨˩] - (sky) blue
  • xanh lá cây [sajŋ̟˧˧ laː˧˦ kəj˧˧] - (tree) green
  • xanh lam [sajŋ̟˧˧ laːm˧˧] = blue (not green)
  • xanh nước biển [sajŋ̟˧˧ nɨək̚˧˦ ʔɓiən˧˩] = blue ("seawater grue”)
  • xanh dương [sajŋ̟˧˧ zɨəŋ˧˧] = blue ("ocean grue”)
  • xanh lơ [sajŋ̟˧˧ ləː˧˧] = cyan
  • xanh da trời [sajŋ̟˧˧ zaː˧˧ t͡ɕəːj˨˩] = azure, sky blue, celeste
  • hồ thuỷ [ho˨˩ tʰwi˧˩] = pale blue ("lake water”)

brown nâu (𩹩) [nəw˧˧] - brown.

pink hồng (紅) - pink

  • Can also mean red in a literary context (reverts to its original Chinese meaning), then it has the same cultural associations as Đỏ.
  • Modern association with femininity (French)

orange màu cam (牟柑) [maw˨˩ kaːm˧˧] - orange (colour); cam (柑) - orange (fruit)

grey xám (監, 藍) [saːm˧˦] - grey, ash-coloured, blurry, unclear

  • chất xám [t͡ɕət̚˧˦ saːm˧˦] = grey matter

purple tím (𧹿 - 僭, 僣, 紺) - purple, violet, black and blue (bruise)
chàm (𣞎, 𣠩, 𣡓) [t͡ɕaːm˨˩] = indigo

Purple is associated with nostalgia, sadness, fragility and tenderness. It is the colour of bruising from being hit or from being in the cold.

  • tím mặt = to turn purple
  • thâm tím = bruised

silver xám bạc - silver (colour); bạc [ʔɓaːk̚˧˨ʔ] - silver (白, 鉑, 礴), money, grey (hair)

  • đầu bạc răng long = old age (“grey hair, weak teeth”)

An introduction to Vietnamese colours by Greg Vanderford


More information about colours in Vietnamese

Learn to Speak Vietnamese Like a Native, an online course by Greg Vanderford

Information about Vietnamese | Chữ-nôm script | Phrases | Colours | Numbers | Time | Dates | Family words | Tower of Babel | Books about Vietnamese on: and [affilate links]

Colour words in other languages


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