33 Color Idioms And Expression To Brighten Your Speech

Bodhi RamosRevisado porNataliia Afonina / más sobre Proceso editorial18 min
Creado: Jan 17, 2023Última actualización: Jan 11, 2024
Idioms About Color

English is a language full of idiomatic expressions. It abounds with sayings that might not make literal sense, but convey a deeper meaning, often based on cultural references. These little turns of phrases create vivid images in our minds and can be used to communicate a range of emotions more effectively than literal language. One way that English does this is by incorporating references to colors. Colorful idioms can spice up your speech and make it more interesting, not to mention more fun.

If you want to add brilliance to your English conversations, this article is for you! We will look at some of the most popular color-based idioms in the English language. Furthermore, we will provide some example sentences to help you see how to use these expressions.

What are colorful idioms?

An idiom is a phrase that has a meaning which is not literal. In other words, when you use an expression, you are not saying exactly what the words mean. For example, if somebody says to you, “I’m pulling your leg,” they will not grab your limb and tug on it! Instead, this person is joking with you or trying to mislead you.

There are thousands of idioms in English, many of which refer to colors. It is thought that this is because colors are often used to describe an emotion, providing a quick and effective way to communicate a feeling or message. The use of color in the language is not limited to idioms. You will also find color proverbs, metaphors, and similes.

You will notice color idioms appearing in daily conversations as you learn English. You might also see them in books, films, and TV shows. And, of course, you can add some life and vibrancy to your English conversations once you start using them!

33 color idioms and expressions

This list showcases some of the most popular idioms that involve color. We have included an example sentence with each idiom to help you understand how it is used. Also, remember that some phrases can be used differently and possess several meanings.

  • To show your true colors.

If someone is showing their “true colors,” they are revealing their type of person, either positive or negative characteristics that have been hidden previously. The phrase is often used to show the unmasking of someone’s real character. 

The man had always seemed pleasant and kind but soon showed his true colors by being rude to the waiter.

She always appeared perfect and put together, but her true colors started to show when she was under pressure. 

  • To pass with flying colors.

To “pass with flying colors” means to succeed and surpass expectations in an endeavor or challenge, usually an exam. It suggests such excellence that the person is seen as victorious – like a soldier returning home with their flags intact! 

She was worried about going into her test, but she passed with flying colors; she got one of the highest grades in the class. 

Melanie worked hard to prepare for her presentation and passed with flying colors, much to the delight of her boss.

  • To look for/see the silver lining.

If you are “looking for the silver lining,” you are trying to find a positive result or outcome from a difficult situation. The phrase is derived from how clouds often part and reveal rays of silvery light when the sun begins to shine.

This economic crisis may have put us in an unpleasant situation, but we must keep looking for the silver lining – try not to be disheartened!

The exam was challenging, but I’m looking for the silver lining – hopefully, my hard work will pay off.

  • The silver screen.

The term “the silver screen” refers to the movie industry. It is often used to convey a sense of glamor or nostalgia about the cinema.

He was one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, and his movies impacted the silver screen for years.

John became famous overnight after his performance on the silver screen made him a star.

  • Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.

This phrase is used to describe someone who was born into a wealthy or privileged family. People born “with a silver spoon in their mouth” often enjoy certain advantages or luxuries simply due to their parents’ wealth.

He had always been used to having things handed to him – he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Although she grew up in poverty, she was determined to make something of her life and show that she didn’t need a silver spoon to be successful.

  • Black sheep.

This is one of the phrases with colors that carries a negative connotation and is used to describe somebody who stands out from the crowd in a negative way. It could mean that they have behaved poorly or done something wrong, but it can also be used for people who simply don’t fit in and are considered outsiders.

My parents weren’t too happy with my rebellious behavior. I was the black sheep of the family. 

He was put down at school for being different and viewed as his peers’ black sheep.

  • In the black.

The idiom “in the black” means doing very well financially or having a good money situation. It is the opposite of being “in the red,” typically referring to businesses or companies.

The company was about to close down before they changed their strategy – now they are in the black again and more successful than ever!

He has made wise investments that have put him firmly in the black.

  • White lie.

A “white lie” is a harmless lie that somebody tells to make another person feel better. It also helps avoid uncomfortable situations or difficult conversations while still trying to preserve the truth. 

I had to tell him a white lie and say that his painting was beautiful, even though I thought it was terrible. 

She used a white lie to get out of going on a date – she said she had an important meeting that day.

  • Black or white.

You may have heard someone say, “It’s black or white; there is no gray area.” This idiom refers to situations with only two possible outcomes – good and bad. The phrase suggests that when it comes down to it, we must decide between these two options without any room for compromise or ambiguity.

It’s black or white – you either agree with us entirely or not! 

The choice was clear; it was black or white, so I had no other option but to accept the terms they proposed.

  • Raise a white flag.

To “raise a white flag” means to surrender or give up. Sometimes it is used figuratively, especially when referring to arguments between people. 

They had been going back and forth for hours, but eventually, he raised the white flag and conceded that she was right. 

We couldn’t agree on anything, so in the end, I decided to raise a white flag and forget about it.

  • Whitewash something.

When you “whitewash something,” it means that you are trying to cover up the truth or make a situation look more positive than it is. Generally, this phrase carries a negative connotation and implies dishonesty.

The government attempted to whitewash reports of police brutality by denying that any human rights violations had occurred.

They tried to whitewash the scandal, but there was too much evidence against them, and they faced legal action.

  • To be blue.

When someone is “blue,” it means they are feeling sad or depressed. This expression is usually understood to indicate a deep sadness that might have been brought on by something out of the person’s control and has left them feeling dejected, despondent, and lonely.

After being laid off from her job unexpectedly, she was blue for months.

My grandmother passed away, and I was so blue afterward – it felt like a part of me had gone too.

  • To be true blue.

If someone is “true blue,” they are devoted and loyal to a cause or person. It could also refer to somebody who sticks with their principles, no matter what the consequences may be.

My best friend has always been true blue; she has supported me unconditionally during every difficult situation I have ever faced. 

Joe was true blue to his country and worked hard to ensure that it had a bright future.

  • To be tickled pink.

“Tickled pink” means that someone is delighted about something. Furthermore, the phrase suggests the person was pleasantly surprised and likely overjoyed by whatever happened to them. This expression can also describe somebody who is simply happy with no outside stimuli necessary! 

My grandma was tickled pink when I unexpectedly showed up at her door – she gave me a big hug and had tears of joy in her eyes!

I was tickled pink when Jack told me I had gotten the job.

  • In the pink of something.

The phrase “in the pink of something” means to be in perfect health or condition. It implies that everything is going well and can also mean “the height of perfection.”

She felt so good that she declared herself in the pink of health!

My career is in the pink of shape right now; I’m so pleased with how well things are going.

  • To give someone the green light.

To “give somebody the green light” is to approve something or encourage a person to move forward with their plans. The phrase is derived from the “traffic lights” system, in which a green light signals that it is safe to continue.

We received the go-ahead from our boss, so we have now been given the green light to begin working on this new venture.

The board of directors gave the green light to my proposal, so I am now ready to start implementing it.

  • To be green with envy.

The idiom “to be green with envy” describes someone who feels very envious of another person because of the success or good fortune that they have achieved, whether it be material possessions, wealth, or simply happiness. This phrase implies that the feeling is intense and not easy to contain! 

My colleague was so green with envy when I got promoted; she didn’t even congratulate me on my success! 

John could barely look at me – he was so jealous after hearing about how well my presentation went – he must have been green with envy.

  • To be green.

If somebody is “green,” it means they don’t have much experience or knowledge about something. It often refers to being naive and lacking in wisdom as well.

When he started the job, he was still a bit green – inexperienced with the day-to-day tasks but eager to learn. 

She was only 23 when she ran for office, and the other candidates were worried that she was too green to handle the job.

  • To have a green thumb.

If someone has “a green thumb,” they are very good at caring for plants, and their gardens grow exceptionally well. This expression can also be extended to any activity that requires someone with a natural affinity or skill for it to thrive.

My mom has always had a green thumb; anytime I go home, her garden is full of beautiful blooms! 

Lucy has the perfect eye and touches needed for painting – she has more than just a green thumb in art.

  • The grass is always greener on the other side.

This idiom refers to the tendency of people to assume that other situations or lifestyles are more desirable than their own. As a result, people often compare their present circumstances with others and feel discontent when they don’t measure up.

Everyone feels like the grass is always greener on the other side, but usually, they just need to take a step back and appreciate what they have.

From her friends’ Facebook posts, it seemed like their lives were perfect, making her feel that the grass was greener on the other side.

  • Black and blue.

If someone is “black and blue,” it usually means that they are bruised or have physical injuries. This phrase implies a person has been in a fight or altercation; it can also be used metaphorically to describe emotional hurt.

The boxer was black and blue from all his blows during the match. 

The break-up left her feeling completely black and blue – she thought she would never recover from its effects.

  • Once in a blue moon.

This expression is used to describe something that doesn’t happen very often. Usually, it implies the event’s occurrence is rare, and a person may have only experienced it once or twice in their lifetime.

We don’t get snow here anymore – I think the last time was once in a blue moon.

My grandma comes over for lunch every few months. She says it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon treat.

  • Out of the blue.

“Out of the blue” suggests that something happened unexpectedly. Usually, it implies the thing that occurred was not planned or expected and may have surprised people.

I received a call out of the blue from my old high school – they wanted me to be a speaker at their graduation!

I was about to go for lunch when, out of the blue, it started pouring outside.

  • Golden opportunity.

A “golden opportunity” refers to a chance that might not come again in your lifetime, and you should seize it with both hands. In other words, it is a favorable occasion with immense potential – if you let the chance slip away, who knows when something like this will arise again!

The audition was my golden opportunity; I just had to ace it if I wanted to get selected into the program. 

Roger sees this as his golden opportunity for success – he must take all steps necessary to ensure nothing goes wrong along the way.

  • A golden handshake.

This phrase describes a large sum of money given as compensation for somebody leaving or retiring from their job. It could also incentivize someone to work hard and stay with the company in exchange for a financial reward. 

He negotiated himself a golden handshake when his contract was up – it was double what he had expected! 

Jack received a generous golden handshake when deciding to call it quits and retire from his job.

  • Golden boy.

This phrase is used positively and primarily refers to somebody who has achieved success early on in life. It could imply that the person is talented and has done something amazing, often receiving praise and admiration from others. 

He was always considered to be the golden boy of his family – he was bright, talented, and successful in everything he did.

John was the golden boy of his college basketball team, as no one could challenge him on the court.

  • To catch someone red-handed.

This color expression describes somebody caught doing something wrong or illegal. The phrase is believed to come from the idea that someone’s hand would be covered in blood if they had just committed a murder.

The evidence proved that he had committed the crime, so there was no way to deny it – he was caught red-handed!

The police caught the thief red-handed, and he was sent to prison for his crime.

  • To paint the town red.

If someone “paints the town red,” it usually means that they are enjoying themselves and having a good time by going out and doing exciting things. People may also use this idiom to describe when they are doing something wild and reckless.

Let’s paint the town red; I feel like going out for a night of fun and adventure! 

The group went crazy on their last night in Vegas, painting the town red with wild antics.

  • To be in the red.

If somebody is “in the red,” it means that their finances are in a bad state or they are not doing well financially. Most likely, they are in debt or don’t have enough money to cover their expenses.

To earn a living, he had to work multiple jobs, and it still wasn’t enough – he ended up being in the red every month. 

The business struggled so much that it went into the red; its debts were more than what it made.

  • Red tape.

“Red tape” is one of the color expressions used to describe bureaucratic processes that take too long or cause unnecessary delays. It implies the presence of annoying rules and regulations that can make accomplishing something more complicated than it needs to be.

The government was so inefficient and overcrowded with red tape. I had to undergo months of paperwork before finally getting my permit approved.

Harry faced all sorts of hurdles at work – from never-ending red tape procedures, he just wanted out.

  • Red-letter day.

A “red-letter day” is a term that describes an especially momentous or important occasion. These days are special because they signify some achievement or success in someone’s life.

Today was a red-letter day for us at the company – we signed our first major deal.

Jill had been waiting eagerly all week for today; it was her red-letter day as she finished college with perfect grades.

  • To roll out the red carpet.

“Rolling out the red carpet” describes the special treatment or hospitality that someone receives. Usually, it means going above and beyond to ensure the person or group feels welcomed and appreciated.

The company rolled out the red carpet for all its new hires – they had a fancy welcome lunch with drinks and desserts.

My daughter’s birthday this year was extra special as her friends rolled out the red carpet and gave her a party to remember.

  • A red flag.

This phrase indicates a warning or risk. It implies danger in some form, such as an issue that needs to be addressed or something that could potentially cause a problem. The “red flag” is a marker so people can be aware of potential risks.

The suspicious behavior was the first red flag – I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. 

I saw some red flags when investing in this stock. The market was too volatile, and there was too much risk for me to decide.


Tips for learning phrases with colours

Using idioms is a great way to demonstrate your fluency in the language and make your English conversations more interesting. However, learning these expressions can be tricky! If you are finding it difficult, here are some tips that could help:

  • Use dictionaries to find the explanations. To look up the meaning of an idiom, use a dictionary to check what it actually means in context. That way, you can be sure you understand and use the color expression correctly when speaking with others! Some examples are the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary, both available online.
  • Make a list. Write down all the color idioms you come across and use them in writing or speaking practice. Repeating this list in different contexts will help you commit the color phrases to memory.
  • Try some mnemonics. Mnemonic devices are very effective in helping us remember certain concepts, ideas, or expressions. Visualize an image that combines color and the idiom to act as a reminder every time you see that color.
  • Look for practical examples. Find movies, sitcoms, and songs in English that use color idioms to give you a better understanding of their meaning. Watching them will also help improve your listening skills.

Now that you better understand phrases about colors and how they are used in English take some time to practice your new language skills. Break out of your shell and start using some idioms in conversations with other English speakers to add life and humor to your interactions.

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Colors express so much more than just hues and shades. They can convey emotions and associated tips and metaphors to create colorful turns of phrases like no other language in the world! The color idioms ranging from “being tickled pink” over joyous news to “seeing red” over unwanted advances enable us to express ourselves more vividly than words alone could ever manage.

Start building your English vocabulary by learning some colorful sayings you think are interesting or useful. Then use them whenever appropriate: you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll make an impression on those around you!


What is an idiomatic expression?

An idiom is a phrase with a figurative meaning that can be understood due to shared cultural understanding. It means that the literal words do not necessarily bear any relation to their actual meaning, but they represent it when used correctly in context.

Is it important to understand and use color idioms?

Using phrases with colors in them is a great way to express yourself more deeply than literal language can, making conversations much more lively. Additionally, knowing these expressions will help you understand them better when hearing or reading them in other contexts, such as movies, songs, or literature.

What are some common color idioms?

Some of the most common phrases with color include “in the red” (to be in debt or to have financial problems), “tickled pink” (to feel delighted, pleased, and deeply content), “green with envy” (to be jealous of someone’s success). Several other expressions include “see red” (becoming very angry towards something/someone) and “white as a sheet/ghost” (to have an extremely pale complexion, usually due to shock).

What can I do to remember color idioms?

The best way to learn and memorize expressions of color is by repetition; go over the list of idioms you want to remember as often as possible. Additionally, use mnemonic devices such as visualizing an image that combines color with its respective expression or phrase to create easy mental associations, which will help jog your memory when needed.


Jenson LaneDec 15th, 2023
Absolutely fantastic article! It's an illuminating guide that beautifully captures the vibrant essence of the English language through its colorful idioms. The explanations and examples provided for each idiom are incredibly helpful for understanding their contextual usage.
POLLYJul 20th, 2023
What a fantastic compilation of idioms!