Italian You Won’t Learn in Class: Colorful Expressions

May 9, 2016

As part of a continuing series on Italian you may not learn in class, Valeria Biancalani, an Italian teacher and the founder of Parlando Italiano, has written this guest post.


I colori

The Colors

 by Valeria Biancalani

Although learning the names of Italian colors is one of the first things students usually practice in an Italian course, not everybody knows that colors (i colori) are also used in many Italian idioms (frasi idiomatiche). So it is very important not only to  know these words, but also the connotations they can have. Let's learn about them together:

Essere al verde (literally: to be in the green) — to not have any money

Although the color green (verde) is usually associated with hope (speranza) and good things in general, in this case essere al verde has a negative connotation because it means that someone has no money.

Example: Vorrei andare a cena fuori questa sera ma non posso perché sono al verde — I would like to have dinner out tonight but I can't because I don't have any money.

Romanzo rosa (literally: pink novel) — romantic novel

Romanzo giallo (literally: yellow novel) — crime novel

In Italian the colors pink (rosa) and yellow (giallo) can be used to talk about different genres of literature.

Example: Ultimamente i miei gusti letterari sono cambiati. Prima adoravo i romanzi rosa, adesso, invece, preferisco i gialli — Lately my literary tastes have changed. I used to love romantic novels but now I prefer crime novels.

• Vedere tutto rosa (literally: to look at everything in a pink way) — to be optimistic

• Vedere tutto nero (literally: to look at everything in a black way) — to be pessimistic

These two expressions are used to refer to our view of life. Vedere tutto rosa means that we look at everything in a positive way, while vedere tutto nero is used when we talk about negative and pessimistic people.

Example: Io e mia sorella siamo completamente diverse. Io vedo tutto nero e lei vede tutto rosa — My sister and I are completely different. I am pessimistic and she is optimistic.

• Diventare bianco come un lenzuolo (literally: to go as white as a sheet) — to get really scared

Diventare bianco come un lenzuolo is used to refer to someone who is so scared that the color of his face changes and becomes white.

Example: Fabio ha molta paura dei ragni. Ogni volta che ne vede uno diventa bianco come un lenzuolo — Fabio is very frightened by spiders. Every time he sees one, he goes as white as a sheet.

Words and Expressions

Settimana bianca — white week; a ski holiday in winter

Matrimonio in bianco — white wedding; an unconsumated and ostensibly unhappy marriage

Principe Azzurro — Prince Charming

Telefono Azzurro — blue telephone; a hotline for abused children

Valeria Biancalani is an Italian teacher and the founder of Parlando Italiano, an Italian language school that offers Italian lessons online with native and qualified tutors. Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language

Click below  to watch a video about these Italian idioms with colors. 

Subscribe here



La Passione
Mona Lisa
La Bella Lingua