I thought that the proper way to use the basic color names is generally with 色, i.e.:


But recently I have come across such a sentence:


Is the 色 optional, or is the difference in use making 色 disappear in the second example?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Using 色 with colors
    – dROOOze
    Jan 21, 2019 at 9:15
  • @drooze it definitely is. I wonder why it didn't show up in search my results... Jan 21, 2019 at 9:24
  • Ideally this would have been closed as a duplicate of Using 色 with colors, but since there are answers here, I closed the other one as a duplicate of this one.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Oct 12, 2020 at 0:06

3 Answers 3


If you learn the context, you will notice it is more complicated than the probable duplicate answer links.

Context 1 : 我不喜欢黄(色)的,我喜欢白(色)的。

This shows a preference for particular stuff with attributes other than the color, color is used to highlight the choice, and that is why is used. E.g. there are white and yellow candies in different flavors. Instead of specifying the flavor, one may use their color to indicate the choices.

Context 2 : 我不喜欢黄色,我喜欢白色。

This shows explicit preference in color. E.g. there are two pairs of pants that look exactly the same, and the person likes the white color.

Though in daily life, both can be used interchangeably in an ambiguous way. However, for a writer, this will give explicit characteristic to the character in their writing.

  • Wow, this is very interesting! Chinese seems to be teeming with unexpected properties... Jan 21, 2019 at 13:22
  • @MrVocabulary In fact, all other language has similar context, most of us just use the mother tongue language sparingly.
    – mootmoot
    Jan 21, 2019 at 13:24
  • 2
    yes, but if Chinese worked exactly the same, it would be 红色 & 这个红色; instead, it plays with components of the word. Generally speaking, Chinese has more optional components than any other language I know. If I am correct, you can skip any all characters in parentheses here: (如果)(你)见我(的)妈妈(的话),(就)说午饭(是)(在)桌子上(面)(的)。That's just mind-boggling ;) Jan 21, 2019 at 14:08
  • 1
    @MrVocabulary In fact, historically, mandarin writing has nothing to do with regional spoken language. The modern mandarin writing is indeed a blending of various region dialect and habitual usage.
    – mootmoot
    Jan 21, 2019 at 14:51
  • 2
    @MrVocabulary 见了我妈就说午饭桌上 is the possible shortest one in my opinion~ Yours is valid, but not very natural.(/≧ω\) Jan 22, 2019 at 2:06

Another way that might work to explain this is that the basic concept at work here is that the colors ending in -色 are the names of the colors as things of interest in themselves, whereas when we omit 色, we do so when we are using colors as attributes of another object of interest. We might call the latter adjectival, but also includes attributives.

For example, if someone asks, "What is your favorite color?" and I were to respond with "Red", but we're using Mandarin and not English as medium of communication, I would use "红色" as the response, not just "红". In this context, the object of interest is the color red itself. On the other hand, if I want to talk of "red apples", then I would say "红苹果" - here now red is serving to describe a quality of the objects of interest, which are apples.

This also explains @mootmoot's post, where the example


which means "I like the yellow ones" (those things to which can be attributed [的] the quality or characteristic of yellowness [黄]). The objects of interest are some unspecified-in-this-example-but-obvious-in-real-usage things for which color is an incidental or peripheral property. This is different from saying "I like yellow", where the focus is on the color yellow itself. This phrase would be, thus, said as


and not


  • This is a very enticing approach! Can you think of something similar for properties other than colors? So far I thought that 晴(朗) etc. was used with respect to prosody only. Jan 27, 2019 at 11:56
  • 我不喜欢黄(色)的,我喜欢白(色)的。
    I like the white one(s), rather than the yellow one(s).

    The name of thing itself (or things themselves) they are talking about is omitted in this context.
    The character 色 here may be omitted, for that the real meanings in this context are:

    I like the white cellphone, rather than the yellow one.

    I like the white shoes, rather than the yellow ones.
  • 我不喜欢黄,我喜欢白
    I like the white color rather than the yellow color.
    I like white rather than yellow.

    There isn't anything they are talking about in this context, just the favorite color.
    The character 色 here should not be omitted commonly.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.