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Hi, everybody! Stefania here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Greek questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is “Which words for colors get inflected and which don't?”
The words for colors in Greek may be used as adjectives when they define a noun, for example, μπλε μάτια (ble mátia, "blue eyes"), or as nouns when we want to talk about a specific color in general, for example, μου αρέσει το μπλε (mu arési to ble, "I like blue"). They are a bit tricky to master because when they define a noun, they need to "agree" with it in gender, number, and case, so they are inflected. The good news is that while some color words do get inflected, many others don't.
So first, let's start with those, the color words that have the same form regardless of how they are used in speech.
The ones I'm going to mention are all neuter indeclinable adjectives or nouns, depending on their usage. We can divide them into two categories. The first includes colors that end in -ί (-í.) Those are usually named after fruits, plants, elements, and other things that are related to nature.
ασημί (asimí, "silver"), βιολετί (violetí, "violet"), βυσσινί (visiní, "burgundy"), δαμασκηνί (damaskiní, "plum"), θαλασσί (thalasí, "sea blue"), κεραμιδί (keramidí, "titian"), κοραλλί (koralí, "coral"), λαδί (ladí, "olive"), λαχανί (lahaní, "lime"), λεμονί (lemoní, "lemon yellow"), λουλακί (lulakí, "indigo"), μελί (melí, "honey color/hazel [for eyes]"), μελιτζανί (melijaní, "dark purple"), μολυβί (moliví, "dark grey"), μουσταρδί (mustardí, "mustard"), πορτοκαλί (portokalí, "orange"), ροδακινί (rodakiní, "peach"), ροζουλί (rozulí, colloquial) ("pink"), σμαραγδί (zmaragdí, "emerald green"), φιστικί (fistikí, "pistachio green"), χακί (hakí, "khaki"), and χρυσαφί (hrisafí, "golden").
Here are some sample sentences with some of these colors.
Το θαλασσί είναι το αγαπημένο μου χρώμα. (To thalasí íne to agapiméno mu hróma.)
"Sea blue is my favorite color."
Οι στρατιώτες φοράνε χακί στολές. (I stratiótes foráne hakí stolés.)
"The soldiers wear khaki uniforms."
The next category includes the rest of the non-inflected color words.
Those are words with foreign origins, the vast majority of which comes from French and are very common in the field of design and fashion.
ακαζού (akazú, "mahogany” [for hair]), βεραμάν (veramán, "almond green"), βερμιγιόν (vermiyón, "vermilion"), γκρενά (grená, "garnet"), γκρι (gri, "grey"), εκρού (ecrú, "ecru"), ιβουάρ (ivuár, "ivory"), καφέ (kafé, "brown"), κρεμ (krem, "cream"), λιλά (lilá, "lilac"), ματζέντα (majénta, "magenta"), μοβ (mov, "purple"), μπεζ (bez, "beige"), μπλε (ble, "blue"), μπορντό (bordó, "maroon"), πετρόλ (petról, "petrol blue"), πλατινέ (platiné, "platinum blond” [for hair]), ροζ (roz, "pink"), ροζέ (rozé, "rosé” [for wine]), σιέλ (siél, "sky blue"), σομόν (somón, "salmon"), τιρκουάζ (tirkuáz, "turquoise"), and φούξια (fúxia, "fuchsia").
Τερακότα (terakóta, "terra cotta") would be the only odd one here, as it is a feminine noun.
Here are some sample sentences with some of these words.
Η παραλία αυτή έχει τιρκουάζ νερά. (I paralía aftí éhi tirkuáz nerá.)
"This beach has turquoise waters."
Η διακόσμηση του γαμήλιου πάρτι ήταν κρεμ και λιλά. (I diakózmisi tu gamíliu párti ítan krem ke lilá.)
"The decoration of the wedding party was cream and lilac."
Finally, we have the inflected color words.
Those can be separated into 3 categories according to their declension group.
The first one includes adjectives that end in -ος/-η/-ο (-os/-i/-o) in the masculine, feminine, and neuter gender.
άσπρος / λευκός (áspros / lefkós, "white"), κίτρινος (kítrinos, "yellow"), κόκκινος (kókinos, "red"), κυανός (kianós, "cyan"), μαύρος (mávros, "black"), μπρούντζινος (brúnjinos, "bronze"), πράσινος (prásinos, "green"), χάλκινος (hálkinos, "copper"), and χρυσός (hrisós, "golden").
The second category includes adjectives that end in -ος/-α/-ο (-os/-a/-o).
ασημένιος (asiménios, "silver"), γαλάζιος (galázios, "sky blue"), γκρίζος (grízos, "grey"), κεχριμπαρένιος (kehribarénios, "amber"), κοραλλένιος (koralénios, "coral"), σμαραγδένιος (zmaragdénios, "emerald green"), and χρυσαφένιος (hrisafénios, "golden")
The last category includes adjectives that end in -ής/-ιά/-ί (-ís/-iá/-í).
ασημής (asimís, "silver"), βιολετής (violetís, "violet"), βυσσινής (visinís, "burgundy"), δαμασκηνής (damaskinís, "plum"), θαλασσής (thalasís, "sea blue"), καφετής (kafetís, "brown"), κεραμιδής (keramidís, "titian"), λαδής (ladís, "olive"), λαχανής (lahanís, "lime"), λεμονής (lemonís, "lemon yellow"), λουλακής (lulakís, "indigo"), μαβής (mavís, "purple"), μελής (melís, "honey color/hazel” [for eyes]), μελιτζανής (melijanís, "dark purple"), μολυβής (molivís, "dark grey"), πορτοκαλής (portokalís, "orange"), ροδακινής (rodakinís, "peach"), φιστικής (fistikís, "pistachio green"), and χρυσαφής (hrisafís, "golden").
When talking about colors in general, we nominalize the neuter forms of all of these declinable color words.
Here are some sample sentences.
Μπορείς να μου φέρεις το μαύρο παλτό; (Borís na mu féris to mávro paltó?)
"Can you bring me the black coat?"
Βάφω τον τοίχο άσπρο. (Váfo ton tího áspro.)
"I'm painting the wall white."
Perhaps you've noticed that there might be more than one word for the same color. For example, the indeclinable ασημί (asimí, "silver") and the declinable ασημένιος/-α/-ο (asiménios/-a/-o) and ασημής/-ιά/-ί (asimís/-iá/-í). If you are not sure which one to use, usually the indeclinable words are okay when you only talk about color while the declinable forms may also refer to color and material in some cases. For example, χρυσά και ασημένια σκουλαρίκια (hrisá ke asiménia skularíkia, "gold and silver earrings").
You may also mix and match words to describe some shades. For example, πορτοκαλοκόκκινο (portokalokókino, "reddish orange"), κιτρινοπράσινο (kitrinoprásino, "greenish yellow"), etc.
Before wrapping this up, some other useful adjectives you will need when describing colors are...
ανοιχτός/-ή/-ό (anihtós/-í/-ó, "light"), σκούρος/-α(-η)/-ο (skúros/-a(-i)/-o, "dark"), παστέλ/παλ (pastél/pal, "pastel"), φλούο/φωσφοριζέ (flúo/fosforizé, "neon"), μεταλιζέ (metalizé, "metallic"), ματ (mat, "matte"), and "γυαλιστερός/-ή/-ό (yalisterós/-í/-ó, "glossy").


How was the lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
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Γεια χαρά! (Ya hará!)