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I'm making something to teach students Chinese colors... Let's say they have to match a color to a square- Is it okay to just use 红, 蓝, 紫, etc on each block just as long as they know 色 means color... or does it always need to be paired with 色 (ex: 红色, 蓝色, 紫色, etc...)?

  • It depends on the context. By using a color word, that color is implied, you can also use (color)+ 的 to refer to the respective blocks. E.g. A: 可以给我那本书吗? B: 那一个? A: 你右手边红色的那本。 – Krazer Nov 23 '14 at 20:56
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I think there are two key reasons to add or not to add 色:

  1. 色 adds formality especially for shorter (1~2 characters) color words.

  2. 色 can be added or omitted for the prosody of the sentence.

I found a good article on this very topic: 对外汉语教学中汉语颜色词的构成分析. A few points taken from/inspired by the article:

  1. 色 is necessary if the word itself is not a color, such as 咖啡色 (the coffee color).

  2. 'New age' color words should not be suffixed by 色 (my understanding is they are more like proper nouns), such as 土豪金 (the Tuhao golden)

  3. Reduplicated color words should not be followed by 色, such as 绿油油 (glossy green).

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Not necessary to pair them with 色. But you can.

Just take 红 as an example.

红 can be used as a noun and also an adjective. Same for 红色.

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In English, "red", "green", "yellow" can be used as adjectives or nouns. However, in Chinese, 红 绿 蓝 can only be used as adjectives. For nouns, the 色 suffix in mandatory.

The color of the trousers is green.   这条裤子的颜色是绿色。  (noun)
This is a pair of green trousers.     这是一条绿裤子。/这是一条绿色的裤子。 (adjective)

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