It’s common to learn your colors in Italian as a beginner, but have you come across any idiomatic expressions using these colors? Some teachers prefer to wait a while before teaching idioms as they can be difficult for students to translate. The very definition of an idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative sense and not a literal one. This means that its meaning is difficult to guess, it has to be learnt. I think it’s good for students of Italian to become introduced to a variety of idiomatic expressions as early as possible. So, I like to teach my students idiomatic expressions alongside the vocabulary we learn as the more familiar we become with them, the easier it is to use them when speaking Italian.

 

Some idioms with colors can be easy for an English speaker to guess as the idioms are similar in English, for example:

 

La pecora nera – the black sheep

Vedere rosso – to see red

Vedere tutto rosa – to see everything in pink i.e. to have rose-tinted glasses

 

Before moving on to some other color idioms, let’s have a little recap on colors in Italian. They’re adjectives which means that they describe nouns. They have to agree in both gender and number with the noun they are describing. You can see this in the example above of ‘la pecora nera’. The colour ‘black’ is nero in the singular masculine but nera in the singular feminine, which it is in this case to agree with the feminine singular word for ‘sheep’ - pecora

 

Now we can look at some other color idioms which are not so easy to guess:

 

Bianco – white

 

Passare la notte in bianco 

Literal translation: To spend the night in white

Real meaning: To have a sleepless night

 

Una settimana bianca

Literal translation: A white week

Real meaning: A week in the mountains skiing or doing other winter sports

Note: This is the common Italian way of talking about a winter skiing holiday

 

Mangiare in bianco

Literal translation: To eat white

Real meaning: To eat plain food

Note: If you’re not feeling well, your Italian friends might tell you to mangiare in bianco. This means eating plain foods such as pasta or bread but without any sauces or spices, so easier to digest on an upset stomach.

 

Nero – black

 

Vedere tutto nero

Literal translation: To see everything in black

Real meaning: To be pessimistic / negative

 

Una giornata nera

Literal translation: A black day

Real meaning: A bad day

 

Lavorare in nero

Literal translation: To work in black

Real meaning: To work off the books / to work illegally / to be paid under the table

 

La cronaca nera

Literal translation: Black news

Real meaning: Crime news

 

Verde – green

 

Essere al verde

Literal translation: To be at the green

Real meaning: To be broke, to have no money

 

 

Avere il police verde 

Literal translation: To have a green thumb

Real meaning: To be good at growing plants

Note: In British English this would be the same as ‘to have green fingers’

 

 

Rosso – red

 

Essere in rosso

Literal translation: To be in the red

Real meaning: To be broke, to have no money

Note: This is the same as essere al verde

 

Diventare rosso come un peperone

Literal translation: To become as red as a pepper

Real meaning: To be embarrassed / ashamed

 

Rosa – pink

 

La cronaca rosa

Literal translation: Pink news

Real meaning: Gossip news

Note: This could also be a gossip column or celebrity news in a newspaper or magazine

 

Blu / Azzurro / Celeste – all shades of blue in Italian

 

Avere il sangue blu

Literal translation: To have blue blood

Real meaning: To be of noble birth

 

Il principe azzurro 

Literal translation: The blue prince

Real meaning: Prince Charming