Colors In Arabic

Mariam Enany

Author

Mariam Enany

Learning the colors in Arabic is always a fun lesson for beginner students.

It is of course, quite essential if you are drawing a smiling sun on the side of the page or if you are picking out a new color for the walls of your apartment.

Our guide today will help you learn the different colors in Egyptian Arabic (El-Alwan) and other color related words such as light & dark that I think will be quite useful in your Arabic learning journey.

Let’s dive right in.

As a start, what we are learning in this article is El-Alwan (the colors) where a single color is loun and more than one color is alwan:

English Transliteration Arabic
Color Loun لون
Colors Alwan ألوان
The Colors El-Alwan الألوان

When you want to say the color green, you would put el- before both color + green, otherwise you just say green with no el- to describe an object as green colored:

اللون الأخضر

El loun El Akhdar

أخضر

Akhdar

What are the color names in Arabic?

In the following table, you will find the most essential colors. You will notice that they all have both masculine and feminine forms.

That’s because the words are derived from Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and they all follow a specific pattern for their root, and so, it is better to memorize them in one group.

Egyptian Arabic

English Transliteration Arabic- Masculine Arabic- Feminine
Red Ahmar- Hamra أحمر حمرا
White Abyad- Bidaa أبيض بيضا
Blue Azra’- Zar’a أزرق زرقا
Black Iswid- Souda أسود سودا
Yellow Asfar- Safra أصفر صفرا
Green Akhdar- Khadra أخضر خضرا

If you are already familiar with the colors in Modern Standard Arabic, what can you notice in the previous table that is different from what you already know?

If you are not familiar, worry not!

Modern Standard Arabic

Check out the following table, you will find all those colors pronounced and written in MSA:

English Transliteration Arabic- Feminine Arabic- Masculine
Red Ahmar- Hamraa’ حمراء أحمر
White Abyad- Baydaa’ بيضاء أبيض
Blue Azraq- Zarqaa’ زرقاء أزرق
Black Aswad- Sawdaa’ سوداء أسود
Yellow Asfar- Safraa’ صفراء أصفر
Green Akhdar- Khadraa’ خضراء أخضر

Looking at the two tables, you can notice that the masculine forms of the colors in Egyptian are quite similar to their MSA counterparts, with one exception in pronunciation: Blue!

The color blue is written أزرق in both MSA & Egyptian but is pronounced AZRAQ in the former, and AZRA’ in the latter.

The feminine forms of the colors in Egyptian Arabic however are slightly different from their MSA sisters.

The hamzas have been erased from the Egyptian following the general attempt to deemphasize “heavy sounds”. That would include the hamza sound at the end of the word in many cases, but I would not use it as a general rule.

In the Egyptian dialect, most of the hamzas are usually erased at the end of the word as you have seen in the case of colors. The dialect usually opts for less emphatic sounds as an alternative if the word has an emphatic sound such as ق-ذ- ص-ظ.

So, a Qaaf (ق) would be pronounced a hamza or an alef, a Dhaal would be pronounced as a zaay, and so on.

Check out the following example for an elaboration:

English Transliteration Arabic
This shirt is blue El-Amees da azra’ القميص ده أزرق

Before we move on to the table for the rest of the colors, I would like to share with you a beautiful song by Al-Massrien, an Egyptian 70’s pop band founded by Hany Shnouda.

The song is one of their classics “Lama Kan el bahr Azra’” or ‘when the color of the sea was blue”

It’s a beautiful song about a woman who realizes she has lost herself in the person she loves, so much that she has become his shadow, and so, she decides to leave to find herself.

The vocalist begins the song by remembering all that was once constant in her life and everything she knew to be true; the sea, the stars, the birds, and happiness with him.

She says:

لما كان البحر أزرق

When the color of the sea was once blue

والنجوم لسه ف مكانها

And the stars were still in place

وطيور بتحلم فوق الشجر كل يوم

And the birds still dreamed on the trees, every day.

لما كان ممكن أصدق

When I still could believe

إن السعادة كلمة واحدة

That happiness was only one word

ما كنتش أقدر أقرا ما بين السطور

When I still could not read between the lines

Other color names

Let’s move on to other colors that are derived from MSA but have a different pattern and structure. In the Egyptian dialect, we barely use the grammatical feminine form for these colors as they would sound awkward to our ears.

English Transliteration Arabic
Orange Borto.’ani برتقانى
Brown Bonni بنى
Gray Romadi رمادى - جراى
Sky Blue Labani لبنى
Navy Blue Kohli كحلى
Pink Bambi بمبى
Purple Banafsigi بنفسجى - موف
Beige Beige بيج
Golden Dahabi دهبى
Silver Faddi فضى - سيلفر
Dark green Zeiti زيتى
Olive green Zatouni زتونى
Turquoise Tirkowaz تركواز

A few of the Arabic alternative terms are also included here in bold which are commonly used. Some are borrowed from the English language such as silver, gray, turquoise, while others are borrowed from French and from other influences.

Okay, now onto the interesting stuff!

How do we form a simple sentence with colors in them?

The general order of a basic sentence would be as follows:

  • This bag is navy blue
  • This curtain is white
  • The door is green
  • The ring is gold (colored)
English Transliteration Arabic
This bag is navy blue El shanta de kohli الشنطة دى كحلى
This curtain is white El setara de beida الستارة دى بيضا
The door is green El baab Akhdar الباب أخضر
The ring is gold (colored) El Khatem dahabi الخاتم دهبى

When we would like to emphasize the color of an object or describe an object in the feminine form using one of the colors from the second table, we usually use the following format:

Subject+ its color+ color name in masculine form

(Since the word color [loun] in Arabic is masculine, it would enable us to use the masculine form of the colors to get around the “awkwardness” of the feminine form sounds of the second table colors).

Following the same example:

This bag’s color is orange.

English Transliteration Arabic
This bag’s color is orange \ Literally: This bag its color is orange Elshanta de lounha borto.’ani الشنطة دى لونها برتقانى

Do you want to emphasize that the curtain’s color is white?

English Transliteration Arabic
The curtain’s color is white El setara lounha abyad الستارة لونها أبيض

One more example:

English Transliteration Arabic
The wall is olive green El Heita zeiti الحيطة زيتى
The wall’s color is olive green El Heita lounha zeiti الحيطة لونها زيتى

Light and dark

Now, how about if we want to say that the table is a light shade of gray or that the color of the glasses is a dark shade of red, how would we say that?

English Transliteration Arabic
فاتح Fateh Light
غامق Ghame’ Dark
الترابيزة لونها رمادى (جراى) فاتح El Tarabeiza lounha Romadi/Gray fateh The table is a light shade of gray
النضارة لونها أحمر غامق El nadara lounha Ahmar Ghame’ The glasses are a dark shade of red

An important note here that you should know: Fateh and Ghame’ are only used to describe the lighter/darker shades of colors, but would not be appropriate to describe skin color.

For skin color, you would use the following:

English Transliteration Arabic
Blonde Ash.’ar - Sha.’ra أشقر - شقرا
Dark skinned Asmar- Samra أسمر- سمرا
Olive skinned Aa’mhi - Amheya قمحى
Skin color Bashra بشرة

Example:

English Transliteration Arabic
Mohamed is olive-skinned and his wife a blonde with light hair
Literally: His wife is a blonde with yellow hair.
Mohamed Bashrito amheya wi mirato sha.’ra wi sha‘raha asfar محمد بشرته قمحية و مراته شقرا و شعرها أصفر

More music? The answer is always yes!

The following song is by the Nubian star Mohamed Mounir and it’s called “El leila ya samra” or “Tonight, dark-skinned girl”

Colorful

Now, that we’ve learned how to say light and dark, as well as the rest of the colors, let’s see how we can describe something as being: colorful.

English Transliteration Arabic
Colorful Mi.lawen ملون

Example:

الجاكت ده لذيذ و ملون كده.
English Transliteration Arabic
الجاكت ده لذيذ و ملون كده. El jacket da laziz w mi.lawen keda This jacket is cute and colorful

‘Turning’ a certain color

In order to say that an object is changing to another color, like for example Your hair is turning white, or Why is your skin looking yellowish, are you sick? How would you say that?

This is so interesting because in Arabic we do have a word for it. Check out the following table for the colors from the very first table, since they all follow the same pattern

English Transliteration Arabic
Turning red me.hmmer محمر
Turning white me.byid مبيض
Turning blue me.zri’ مزرق
Turning black mes.wid مسود
Turning yellow mes.fir مصفر
Turning green me.khdir مخضر

Let’s check the previous examples now:

English Transliteration Arabic
Your hair is turning white Sha‘rak me.byid شعرك مبيض
Why is your skin looking yellowish, are you sick? Bashritak malha safra keda leh? Enta ta‘baan? بشرتك مالها صفرا كده ليه؟ أنت تعبان؟

To wrap up this colorful guide, we need to go back to the basics one more time and ask:

What’s your favorite color?

English Transliteration Arabic
What is your favorite color? (directed to second person masculine)
What is your favorite color? (directed to second person feminine)
Eih lounak El mofaddal?
Eih Lounik El mofaddal?
ايه لونَك المفضل؟
ايه لونِك المفضل؟
My favorite color is (insert color) Louni el mofaddal el loun el (----) لونى المفضل اللون (---)
What color do you like the most?
(directed to second person masculine/feminine)
Eih aktar loun bethibo/bethibeeh? ايه أكتر لون بتحبه - بتحبيه؟

When asking someone about their favorite color, you can either put the question word (Eih) meaning what at the beginning of the question or at the end. So it could be Eih Lounak El mofaddal? Or lounak el mofaddal eh? And same goes to the second question of “what color do you like the most?”

I hope this guide has been helpful to you in your quest to learn colors and was enjoyable to read.

أنا لونى المفضل اللون الأسود. و أنت - و أنتى؟

Louni elmofaddal el loun el iswid, wi enta/enty?

My favorite color is black, and you?

See this lesson on Levantine Arabic colors.


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