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.
(𪓇) [ʔɗɛn˧˧ / ʔɗɛŋ˧˧];
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”)
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
[ʔɗɔ˧˩] (𧹼, 𧺃, 𣠶, 𧹥, 𧹦, 𧹻) - red, burning, flaring up, lucky, fortunate, Communist đỏ
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
(牟黄) - yellow (colour), yellowy, aureate
màu 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
(青) [sajŋ̟˧˧ / sɛɲ˧˧ / san˧˧] - blue/green, grue, green (unripe) xanh
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.
[sajŋ̟˧˧ zaː˧˧ t͡ɕəːj˨˩] - (sky) blue xanh da trời
[sajŋ̟˧˧ laː˧˦ kəj˧˧] - (tree) green xanh lá cây 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”)
nâu (𩹩) [nəw˧˧] - brown.
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)
(牟柑) [maw˨˩ kaːm˧˧] - orange (colour);
màu cam (柑) - orange (fruit)
(監, 藍) [saːm˧˦] - grey, ash-coloured, blurry, unclear
chất xám [t͡ɕət̚˧˦ saːm˧˦] = grey matter
(𧹿 - 僭, 僣, 紺) - purple, violet, black and blue (bruise) tím
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 (colour);
xám 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 |
Family words |
Tower of Babel |
Colour words in other languages
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