125 - White's Whitish White Whiteness

Back in Lesson #121, we were looking at turning adjectives into nouns. For example:


size (lit. "bigness")

It reminded me of a serious problem I have in Japanese: colors.

In English, the adjectives and nouns for colors are the same.

#1) I have a red shirt.
#2) Red is my favorite color.

In #1, "red" is an adjective. In #2 "red" is a noun.

When I first started studying Japanese, then, I saw a list of colors:

白い(しろい // white
黒い(くろい // black
赤い(あかい // red
青い(あおい // blue*)

*Note: I say that 青い is "blue," but it can also refer to some shades of "green." This is the word used, for example, when talking about a "green (stop)light." Also, it can mean "pale" when talking about someone's complexion.

The colors listed above are all adjectives. So they work perfectly fine when they come directly before a noun:

くろい くつ ほしい。
I want (some) black shoes.
Literally: "black + shoes + wanted."

みて、 しろい ねこ が いる。
Look, there's a white cat.
Literally: "look, + white + cat + が + is."

These words do NOT work, however, when talking about colors as nouns. For example:

いちばん すきな いろ は なん です か。
What is your favorite color?
Literally: "number one + liked + color + は + what + is + か."

I don't like the formal flavor of this question. Let's make it casual by removing ですか:

いちばん すきな いろ は なに?
What's your favorite color?
Literally: "number one + liked + color + は + what?"
Note: I put 何 in hiragana here, as なに, because I saw that much more in casual sentences online. Both ways should be fine, though.

Now let's look at an INCORRECT answer that I probably would have given when I was still a beginner:

✕ 黒い(が一番好き)。
✕ くろい (が いちばん すき)。
✕ Black (is my favorite).

If you think about a sentence like "Black is my favorite," the word "Black" is a noun. In Japanese, this means that we need to remove the い. So the correct answer to this question would be:

〇 黒(が一番好き)。
〇 くろ (が いちばん すき)。
〇 Black (is my favorite).
Literally: "black + (が + number one + liked)."

If you look at this page, someone posted the question, "What is your favorite color?" And all of the answers are colors in their noun forms.

Just talking about the colors we listed above, we can make the noun forms by deleting い, like this:

白(しろ // white
黒(くろ // black
赤(あか // red
青(あお // blue; green

Here is another example of noun forms:

くろ と しろ どっち が すき?
Which do you like better, black or white?
Literally: "black + and + white + which + が + liking?"

Depending on how you look at it, one good (or bad) thing is that some colors don't need to change. These two words, for example, can be either nouns or adjectives:

紫色(むらさきいろ // violet; purple
緑色(みどりいろ // green

Japanese is never easy on us, though, so sometimes you'll also see these without the word 色(いろ // color)attached to them:

紫(むらさき // violet; purple
緑(みどり // green


あか と あお を まぜる と むらさき に なる。
If/When you mix red and blue, you get purple.
Literally: "red + and + blue + を + mix + and + purple + becomes."

Hold on. It gets worse. Some colors have 色 AND い attached to them when they're adjectives:

黄色い(きいろい // yellow
茶色い(ちゃいろい // brown

Like the other adjectives ending with い we saw above, your best bet with these is to only place them right before nouns, like this:

ちゃいろい ソファ かおう かな。
Maybe I should buy a brown sofa.
Literally: "brown + sofa + let's buy + かな."
Note: If you're confused by this use of "volitional verb + かな," then you should check out Lessons #54 and #55.

What I don't really understand is that sometimes these words will be used without the い but still be used as an adjective by putting の right after the word, like this:

ちゃいろ の シャツ もってる?
Do you have a brown shirt?
Literally: "brown + の + shirt + are possessing/holding?"

Why not only say 茶色い here?! We don't need this 茶色の jerk.

Here is an example of including 色, losing い, and having the word act as a noun:

この はな、 きれいな むらさきいろ だ ね。
This flower is a beautiful violet (color).
Literally: "this + flower, + pretty + violet + is + ね."

Now, at last, I get to the point of this lesson:

Putting ~さ onto the end of colors is like adding the suffix -ness to them.

かみ の くろさ を じまんする。
She is proud of how black her hair is.
Literally: "hair + の + blackness + を + boasts/is proud of."

は の しろさ が すてき。
She has such wonderful white teeth.
Literally: "teeth + の + whiteness + が + lovely."
Note: This word 素敵 always sounds feminine to me. I guess that's somewhat true of the word "lovely," too?

め の ちゃいろさ は ひと によって ちがう。
Different people's eyes are different shades of brown. // The shade of brown of people's eyes depends on the person.
Literally: "eye + の + brown-ness + は + person + depending on + differs."
Note: You should definitely memorize "X + によって違う," which we can think of as "It depends on the X."

おどろき の しろさ に!
Look at how white it's gotten!
Literally: "surprise + の + whiteness + に!"
Note: This is a phrase you might hear in a TV commercial about laundry detergent or bleach, for example.

There's actually quite a bit more that I have to say about colors in Japanese, but I think I'll have to save it for another lesson.

Complete and Continue