Here are twenty colour idioms.


1.   “See someone’s true colours”
– To see someone’s real nature or character for the first time.

Variation: “Show one’s true colours.”

Usually this is used in a negative sense and (according to the Cambridge dictionary) refers to an unpleasant experience.

  • “I saw her true colours when we moved in together.”
  • “I guess she finally showed her true colours.”

2.   “With flying colours”
– To pass successfully or with distinction.

This is often used to refer to tests or exams with the verb “pass.”

  • “It was a lot of work but it was all worth it because I passed with flying colours!”
  • “He’s passed all his tests with flying colours so far. The last one is tomorrow.”

3.   “(As) white as a sheet”
– A pale face, usually because of illness, shock, or fear.

This is a little old-fashioned but is still well-known.

  • “Are you okay? You look as white as a sheet.”
  • “He just appeared at our front door looking dishevelled and as white as a sheet.”

4.   “Pot calling the kettle black” 
– Used to describe someone who said something judgmental or critical even though that they have the same faults too.

This is often used as a commentary concerning a negative situation where someone is being criticised or judged.

  • “Wally criticising him like that is like a pot calling the kettle black.”

5.   “In black and white” 
– In writing or printed.

This is usually used to refer to a kind of written proof.

  • “I’ll keep refusing until I see it in black and white.”

* Please note: “Black-and-white” can be used as an adjective to describe a subject or situation where it is easy to understand what is right or wrong.

  • “Can ethics be black-and-white?”

6.   “Black and blue” 
– The dark marks or discolourations on your skin caused by an injury.

This is often used to refer to a beating rather than an accident, but generally describes the colours of a bruise.

  • “My brothers used to beat each other up black and blue when they were kids.”
  • “His knees are all black and blue from the fall yesterday.”

7.   “Out of the blue” 
– Suddenly or unexpectedly.

Usually we use this when we are surprised by something we did not expect to happen.

  • Out of the blue, she said she got a job elsewhere and just left.”
  • “My old colleague called me out of the blue.

8.   “Once in a blue moon” 
– Not very often.

  • “Even though we only live 20 minutes from each other, I only see my sister once in a blue moon.”
  • “I call my dad once in a blue moon just to check up on him.”

9.   “To have the blues” or “To feel/be blue”
– (informal) To feel sad or depressed.

“Blue” is commonly understood to refer to sadness, but I think it is more common to just say that one is feeling sad or down.

  • “He had the blues for a while after they broke up.”
  • “I was kind of feeling blue last week but I’m better now.”

10.   “The grass is always greener on the other side (of the fence)”
– (proverb) Used to say that other people seem to be in a better situation than you, but they may not be.

This is usually used as a kind of reminder to be satisfied with what you have.

  • “He moved overseas for work a few years ago and he seems to be really enjoying it over there. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, huh?

11.   “Green with envy” 
– To be very jealous or envious.

It specifically means that that you are unhappy because someone else has something that you want. 

This is well known, but not that commonly used these days. 

  • “He became green with envy when he found out someone else had bought the vintage car he always wanted.” 
  • “I have to admit, I did feel a little green with envy when I heard about his new job.” 

12.   “Give the green light to (something)”
– To give permission for someone to do something or for something to happen. 

  • “The CEO gave the green light to launch a new product.” 
  • “We were finally given the green light to go ahead with the house extension.” 

13.   “Go/Turn green” 
– To look pale and ill as if one is about to vomit. 

It is pretty common to see this in cartoons when a character’s face turns green before they are about to vomit. 

  • “It didn’t take long for his face to go green.” 
  • “I saw his face quickly turn green before he bolted for the toilet.” 

14.   “See red”
– (informal) To become very angry, often used with the verb “make.” 

Honestly speaking, I am not familiar with this one nor do I think this is very common even though I came across this numerous times when I was putting this list together.

  • “It doesn’t take much for him to see red.” 
  • “I see pictures of badly treated animals and I see red.” 

15.   “Catch (somebody) red-handed” 
– To discover someone while they are doing something bad or illegal. 

  • “She was caught red-handed taking money from her mother’s purse.” 
  • “They’ve set up an elaborate sting so that they can catch the criminal red-handed.” 

16.   “Roll out the red carpet (for someone)” 
– To give a guest special treatment. 

  • “They’ve really rolled out the red carpet for their guests.” 
  • “The staff rolled out the red carpet for the regional director.” 

17.   “Tickled pink” 
– (informal) Very pleased. 

  • “Mum was tickled pink when dad bought her flowers.” 
  • “She’s quite tickled pink with how well the launch is going.” 

18.   “To look at (something) through rose-coloured glasses”
– To see only the pleasant things about a situation and not notice the things that are unpleasant. 

Variation: “To see (something) through rose-tinted spectacles.” 

This is well-known but not that commonly used nowadays. 

  • “She’s in love. She can only see him through rose-coloured glasses.” 
  • “I sometimes wish I could look at life through rose-tinted spectacles.” 

19.   “Every cloud has a silver lining” 
– (proverb) Used to say that every difficult or sad situation has an advantage or a positive side to it. 

This is also well-known but not so commonly used these days. 

  • “If you hadn’t miss your bus, we wouldn’t have met. So I guess every cloud has a silver lining.”

20.   “Born with a silver spoon in your mouth” 
– Refers to someone who has a high social position and is rich from birth. 

Well-known but not so commonly used. I also think it is not commonly used in Australia because social class is not really something that people are made aware of or a topic that is openly talked about, and there is no aristocracy here. 

  • “It took me a while to realise that she was one of those born with a silver spoon in her mouth.”

Original post: 25 May 2021